Holocaust Memorial Day: Europe struggles to remember

On January 27, 1945, units of the Red Army liberated the largest Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Around 1.1 million people were murdered in the complex. Since 1996, January 27 has been a day of remembrance in Germany for the victims of National Socialism, and since 2005 it has been the UN's International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Commentators discuss how the memory of the atrocities can be kept alive.

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Şalom (TR) /

Best to try to remember it daily

For the Jewish weekly Şalom, a constant effort should be made to keep the memory alive:

“Ghettos, death camps, mass graves, the destruction of a culture, the erasure of a future! January 27th alone is not enough, the Shoah must be remembered every day. Not as a tragedy but as a real event, in a simple way. If you don't feel in your bones the feelings of a person being sent to their doom in the airless carriage of a death train to Auschwitz, if you don't put yourself in the position of a life waiting at the end of a barrel for the trigger to be pulled, then you cannot prevent similar situations from being repeated.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Knowledge and values needed

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung expresses concern about the results of a survey in the Netherlands:

“Almost a quarter of respondents believe the genocide was fabricated or that its portrayal is exaggerated. More than half see no connection between their own country and the Holocaust. ... This means we need to reflect on the type and content of communication about the Holocaust. What is decisive - and this applies to every state that wants to learn from its history - is on the one hand the knowledge of how it came about and how things can go that far. But on the other unless values such as the dignity of each individual are internalised, their freedom and equality before the law, there is a risk of repetition.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

A shared European responsibility

Jyllands-Posten appeals:

“Europeans are duty-bound to prevent a repetition of the Shoah wherever it may occur. ... Attempts have often been made to explain the Holocaust as something specifically German, as a sort of moral short-circuit associated with the Nazi regime and the Second World War. On the contrary, the moral collapse of European civilisation and history, which the Holocaust, as a crime against humanity, represents, is all our collapse and therefore also our common responsibility.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Memories less accessible without eyewitnesses

Historian Giovanni De Luna warns in La Stampa:

“When memories of Auschwitz began to fade, negationism immediately filled the gap. Denying or playing down the Shoah ('but the communists did the same'), demoting it to the status of a totalitarian practice like any other, was the breeding ground for a culture on which the European right has drawn heavily. The horrors of the conflicts of this century have done the rest. ... Now more than ever, as the last eyewitnesses pass away, it seems that the memory of Auschwitz is at best embalmed in the numerous official ceremonies that risk enclosing the Shoah in a 'monument' that can convey neither memories nor emotions.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Speak for the survivors

Since there will soon be no more eyewitnesses we need new forms of commemoration, editor-in-chief Dorian de Meeûs urges in La Libre Belgique:

“'The past does not pass', said philosopher Paul Ricœur. Let us find a future for the traumas of the past and be the 'spokespersons' for the survivors who are now dead! The countless pieces of evidence, traces and reports can help us do this. History reminds us that hatred of others and extremist ideologies have the power to disempower people, to the point of turning any citizen into the perpetrator of a crime against humanity. Each of us should remember this and bring it to the attention of our children and grandchildren, the future mediators of memory.”