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75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Resounding message of World Holocaust Forum: ‘Never Again Is Now’

By Deborah Fineblum

(JNS) Jerusalem: It’s a city in a country that stops everything for a minute each May for Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering those who perished, as well as those who barely escaped with their lives. But on Thursday, Jan. 23, it remembered again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with world leaders during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020. (Credit: Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90

And this time, the city didn’t remember alone. Leaders from 46 nations, including leaders from the four World War II victorious allies – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles and France’s Emmanuel Macron – gathered to both honor the dead and make a strong statement of support for the living. The historic occasion: the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, officially titled the “World Holocaust Forum 2020, Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism.” Hosted by Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and the President of the State of Israel, this was the first such forum to be held in Israel.

It was clear from the get-go that the assembly meant business, starting as it did without preamble, simple statistics showing the dramatic increase in antisemitic acts flashing across a giant screen. The star-studded gathering was designed to make a point with and to the leaders, their citizens and the rest of the world, as 100 of Israel’s remaining 200,000 survivors sat and quietly took it all in.

Each speaker made the point in his own way.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Allied forces and the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives and their families to save Jews. He also described Auschwitz as not just the symbol of evil, “but, more than that, for our people, it’s also the symbol of Jewish powerlessness. Today, however, we have our ancient homeland. The Jewish people have learned the lesson of the Holocaust,” he said.

And, although this people appreciates the support of the nations, it must be able defend itself and “remain the master of its fate.”

He also warned about the danger posed by both the current uptick in antisemitism, in addition to the “tyrants of Tehran who threaten all of the Mideast and all of the world.”

But Netanyahu switched to Hebrew for his most intimate and emotional message: “Auschwitz the destruction; Jerusalem the resurrection. Auschwitz was incarceration and enslavement; Jerusalem is freedom and liberty. Auschwitz was death; Jerusalem is life.”

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

‘I wish I could say our remembrance makes us immune to evil’
Other powerful speeches included those by survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, formerly chairman of Yad Vashem and, before that, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, who spoke about his mother’s charge to him not to break their ancient rabbinical family line; by Pence, who shared the powerful impact of visiting Auschwitz, saying “one cannot walk there without being overcome, one cannot see the pile of shoes, the boxcars and those grainy photos of the men, women and children brought to their death without asking, ‘How could they?’ ”

He, too, had cautionary words about Iran: “In the same spirit, we must stand strong against the leading state purveyor of antisemitism, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and finally, we must have the courage to recognize all the leaders and all the nations gathered here that today we have the responsibility and the power to ensure that what we remember here today can never happen again.”

“As [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump said, ‘Today, we remember not simply the liberation of Auschwitz but also the promise of freedom, of a people restored to their rightful place … ’”

And Charles, the Prince of Wales, speaking of survivors he has known and admired, added that “the Holocaust must never be allowed to become simply a fact of history. … The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day … though they may adopt new lies and new disguises, new words used to mark others as enemies.”

Perhaps most poignant were the words of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who refused to shrink from his country’s guilt. “It was Germans who committed one of the worst crimes in the history of humanity; it was committed by my people. Seventy-five years later, I stand here laden with this heavy historic burden.”

U.S. Vice President Michael Pence addresses the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Steinmeier was also honest about the resurgence of antisemitism in his country and elsewhere. “I wish I could say that our remembrance makes us immune to evil. … I wish I could say that the Germans have learned from history, but I cannot,” he said. “ … I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur.”

The speeches were surprisingly free of political posturing, although the absence of Andrzej Duda was somewhat obvious; the Polish president opted out of the proceedings, although it is said that he is planning to attend the 75th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27. 

Forum founder Moshe Kantor told the press at a pre-event media briefing that this is “not the stage for such disputes” and preferred to focus on the leaders who did come to share their support for both keeping the memories of the Holocaust alive and making a statement against the current wave of antisemitic acts worldwide. “That sends a message.”

He added that he’s concerned that one-third of the voters in “a great nation” like England voted for the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn had such a clear antisemitic track record. “The extremists want to get their power in a democratic way like Hitler did. And, to tolerate antisemitism, we know where that can lead.”

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev also told the journalists that “the fact that nearly 50 leaders from around the world are gathered here means we are creating a united front. The mission: to combat the growing threat of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.”

And after each of the 46 leaders (more if you count U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Vatican representative) mounted the stage to lay memorial wreaths–a somber ceremony that dramatically demonstrated both the unprecedented global powerhouse gathered in that place, as well as their shared sense of purpose – the day’s message was spelled out clearly.

“Never Again Is Now,” the words blazed in big letters on the screen. “Now Is the Time to Fight Back.”

Trump administration, Democratic leadership mark Auschwitz liberation

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) – In proclamations and in visits to Poland and Israel, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and an array of lawmakers and government officials marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with pledges to combat rising antisemitism and protect Israel.

Trump on Friday, Jan. 24, released a proclamation marking the liberation’s anniversary, which was held on Monday, Jan. 27. 

“We remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and pay tribute to the American soldiers and other Allied Forces who fought tirelessly to defeat the Nazi regime,” Trump said. “We also recommit ourselves to the fight against antisemitism and to the two words that cannot be repeated often enough: Never Again.”

Trump also committed to protecting Israel. “As I have said in the past, the State of Israel is an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people,” he said. “To those who will seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, we say: Never Again.”

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi  lays a wreath during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, Israel on Jan. 23, 2020. 
(Credit: Pool/Getty Images)

Pence and Pelosi traveled to Jerusalem last week to join commemorations at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin led delegations to Auschwitz. According to an aide, Pelosi met beforehand with an Auschwitz survivor to better understand the death camp as she toured it.

In remarks Thursday, Jan. 23, to a European Jewish Congress dinner in Jerusalem, Pelosi recounted her long history of associations with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish causes, from the pre-state advocacy for a Jewish state by her late father, U.S. Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro, to her role before her political career in establishing a Holocaust memorial in San Francisco and her advocacy on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

She recalled specifically protesting the imprisonment of the refusenik who is now her counterpart, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and who was present at the dinner.

“My experience was in my home city of San Francisco and only several years before I was in Congress,” she said. “We would hold up his picture. He had a little beard, long hair and the rest – so cute – and we would hold up his picture and chant his name to free him – to ‘free Yuli, to free Yuli’. It was part of our whole program to free the refuseniks.”

Democrats in their remarks tended to emphasize the threat of antisemitic violence in the United States and Europe, while Republicans focused on the threat to Israel, although officials from both parties at least alluded to both issues.

“We must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of antisemitism, against the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” Pence said at Yad Vashem. “The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Pelosi gave over the weekly Democratic radio address to Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., a Jewish Chicago area congressman who was part of her delegation.

“A key lesson of the Holocaust is that we cannot remain silent in the face of rising antisemitism,” Schneider said. “Right now, that lesson is more important than ever, in the face of a dramatic increase in antisemitism around the world, and specifically here in the United States.”

Lawmakers in Congress also timed the introduction or advancement of Holocaust-related bills with the Auschwitz anniversary. In the House, Democrats introduced a non-binding resolution Monday marking the Auschwitz liberation. A similar resolution in the Senate has been introduced by Republicans. Separately, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., held a press conference Monday to urge the advance of their Never Again Holocaust Education Act, which would provide Holocaust education materials to schools.

‘Thought of revenge became source of strength,’ Holocaust survivor says at Auschwitz commemoration

By Cnaan Liphshiz

OSWIECIM, Poland (JTA) — Holocaust survivors seeing their grandchildren facing the hatred that nearly killed them is a source of shame for the world, World Jewish Congress leader Ronald Lauder said at Auschwitz.

Lauder spoke Monday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland.

Ronald Lauder holds a #WeRemember sign ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Courtesy of World Jewish Congress)

Dozens of world leaders attended the event at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum near Krakow, including Polish President Andrjez Duda, who was the only politician to speak. He vowed to “always nurture the memory of and guard the truth about what happened here.”

Other leaders included Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Several survivors also spoke, including Batsheva Dagan, 94, who lives in Israel but was born in Poland.

“The thought of revenge became a source of strength allowing to endure longs days and nights of inhumane suffering,” she said of the prisoners at concentration camps.

Lauder in his speech said that following the Holocaust, “everyone wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from the horrors” of Auschwitz. “But in recent years, I’ve seen something I never thought I’d see in the spread of anti-Semitism.”

He also condemned what he called the “shameful and constant fixation on Israel at the United Nations,” which he said has passed 202 resolutions condemning individuals nations since 2013, of which 163 focused on Israel.

“Anti-Zionism is nothing but antisemitism,” he added, prompting many survivors to applaud. Israel’s haters, he said, “speak of it as anti-Semites spoke before about Jews.”

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