Auschwitz: how to ensure we don't forget?

The Red Army reached the German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz 75 years ago. Major commemorative ceremonies were held on Monday on location in Poland and in Israel last week. Europe's media discuss how the memory of the Shoah can be kept alive - also in view of current developments.

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Avgi (GR) /

Brutality taken to the extreme

We must always remember that Auschwitz symbolises the extremes of human brutality, Avgi urges:

“It's not that there haven't been other atrocities in the history of human civilisation. But the Nazis used technology to build industries for the extermination of human beings. They built incinerators, pipeline networks, calculated cross-sections and pumps to kill people with the highest level of productivity. Half an hour after one group was killed, the ovens were ready to receive the next lot. It's for this reason that Auschwitz can't be compared to anything else.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Commemorate the beginnings

For Radio Kommersant FM, commemorations should focus less on the end of the Holocaust than on its beginnings:

“For example on the Évian Conference of 1938, at which representatives of 32 states met at Lake Geneva. ... The participants discussed how to deal with the problem of Jewish refugees. In the end only the Dominican Republic voted in favour of taking in more Jews. The others preferred to do nothing. This head-in-the-sand tactic played right into the Nazi's hands. Hitler saw that no one apart from himself was interested in the fate of the Jews, and started to plan the 'Final Solution'. If we want to prevent such horrors from being repeated, we shouldn't just commemorate the joyful moments of liberation but also the shameful years of indifference.”

Diário de Notícias (PT) /

Remembering the Holocaust not enough

In Diario de Noticias, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, stresses that much remains to be done against anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond:

“We must educate our children, inform our citizens, train our police authorities about the Holocaust and current forms of anti-Semitism. ... Finally, we must recognise that anti-Semitism is not just a European problem. It requires a global response, and to this end the EU must work with all partners - countries as well as international organisations - that are willing to defend human rights, our values of equality, pluralism, diversity and religious freedom.”

Libération (FR) /

Evil is part of human nature

Frans Timmermans, Vice-Chairman of the EU Commission, explains in Libération why remembrance is so important:

“It's by being aware of both human greatness and perversity that we can fully understand human nature and thus have a chance to silence our demons. ... The Holocaust is a unique event in European history. Yet the mechanisms that made it possible are by no means unique: they're an integral part of human nature. Humanity, and more particularly Europeans, have a permanent obligation to be aware of this and to pass on the awareness of this duality to future generations.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Let us not lose our empathy

The memory of the Shoah must be kept alive at all times, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung exhorts:

“You don't have to have been in Auschwitz to experience the horror and grief. What can be learned about the worst of all human crimes is available everywhere. Every compassionate, reflective person will come across it sooner or later. It requires knowledge and concentration, and above all empathy and imagination. Society must focus on caring for these qualities and keeping them alive so as to remain morally awake and politically intelligent. As much as the digital world makes life easier for us with its universe of pre-formatted and pre-digested material, it also atrophies our powers of imagination and empathy with others.”

Die Presse (AT) /

A harbinger of the decline of democracy

The approach to anti-Semitism is far too lax, complains former Spanish foreign minister Ana de Palacio in the daily Die Presse:

“When people mention anti-Semitism it's often shrugged off or even rationalised in a cynical way. Outrage or solidarity lack depth, and discussions are overshadowed by disputes over Israeli - or even US - policy. ... Two reasons for this weak reaction deserve special attention. The first is the fading of memory. The history of anti-Semitism in Europe is almost as old as Europe itself ... The second is the general erosion of democratic principles and institutions. ... If we cannot agree that anti-Semitism has no place in our societies, what can we agree on?”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Undignified haggling above the graves

Writing in Mladá fronta dnes, Šimon Krbec of the Terezín Center for Genocide Studies finds the controversy over the 75th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz completely incomprehensible:

“The political representatives of countries whose citizens died during the Holocaust are accusing each other of falsifying history, collaborating with the Nazis and even sharing responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War. A dangerous tendency towards selective perception of history is spreading in Europe. ... The whole spectacle over who invites - or doesn't invite - whom is undignified. The only ones who can really delight in it are those who want the Holocaust to be forgotten once and for all.”

Der Standard (AT) /

A missed opportunity for Poland

Poland's President Andrzej Duda boycotted the event because he was not allowed to deliver a speech. Der Standard criticises this decision:

“Warsaw defends itself - under threat of punishment - against allegations that Poland was complicit in the persecution of Jews during the German occupation. In Israel this is regarded as a basic unwillingness to deal with anti-Semitism in the country. Vladimir Putin recently chimed in, describing Poland's pre-war ambassador to Berlin as an 'anti-Semitic pig'. Warsaw, in turn, gives Moscow partial responsibility for the Second World War pointing to the Hitler-Stalin Pact. But Polish President Andrzej Duda missed an opportunity when he refused to come to the Yad Vashem commemoration ceremony after he was told he couldn't deliver a speech. He could have shown that in the face of millions of Holocaust deaths, diplomatic power also resides in a silent approach.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Key voice on victims' side missing

In Novoye Vremya journalist Vitaly Portnikov criticises that Putin was allowed to make a speech at the World Holocaust Forum but Ukrainian President Zelensky wasn't:

“Most of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were exterminated in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. Not in Russia. Zelensky has the same moral right to speak at these ceremonies as Putin, and as an individual he even has more right, for he is a descendant of the victims and not just of the liberators. ... If we want to speak frankly about history, the Ukrainian and Polish presidents must be able to speak on the same stage on which the Russian president speaks.”

The Times (GB) /

Putin's version is disrespectful

The history of the Holocaust is not up for debate, The Times stresses:

“While nobody disputes the sacrifice of the Soviet Union after it was invaded in 1941, nor the heroism of the Red Army leading to the liberation of most of the death camps, nor should the Russians dispute the sacrifice of the Polish people, a sacrifice which began earlier. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. More than two million non-Jewish Polish civilians and soldiers died. ... Just as the Polish government was wrong two years ago to make it illegal to accuse Poles of complicity in the Holocaust, so Mr Putin is wrong to accuse them now of complicity in starting the war. The history of the period, while complex, is not confused, nor should it be controversial. To pretend that it is shames the memory of the dead.”

Večer (SI) /

Speeches in contrast with reality

The admonishing speeches of politicians that can be heard once more are in jarring contrast to the rise of right-wing extremism in many countries, Večer points out:

“During these days when we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the German concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau, all politicians are saying that such a thing must never happen again. But these are just words for the commemorative ceremonies: in reality they talk quite differently. All over the world, but especially in Europe, far-right - or more accurately - fascist movements and parties are growing and coming to power quite legitimately. The Jews have simply been replaced as the main object of racism by refugees and economic migrants, mostly of Arab or Muslim origin.”