Israel’s largest-ever delegation visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp yesterday to attend a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year’s event, however, takes on added significance, as antisemitism has been notably on the rise, particularly in Europe.
The delegation of 250 included more than 60 Members of Knesset, Cabinet members, Holocaust survivors and their families, and prominent public figures, including Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum directorate.
On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, a death and labor camp in which more than one-million Jews were murdered, was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum website, approximately 7,000 prisoners were found remaining in the camp, after the Nazis had evacuated close to 60,000 prisoners just days before, escorting them on the notorious “death marches.” In 2005, January 27 was adopted by the UN as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor Party, together with Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin, were chosen to lead the delegation after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein pulled out of the trip due to the sad passing of his wife on Friday.
“We will reach the gates of this horrible place with survivors who went through the inferno, in order to honor the memory of the victims and say clearly: Am Yisrael Hai [the people of Israel lives],” Levin was quoted as saying.
The Jerusalem Post reported that in his address at the ceremony, Herzog called for the memory of the Holocaust and of Auschwitz to be preserved forever and to serve as a lesson against antisemitism.
The Israeli delegation carried Israeli flags from the ceremony, through the snow-covered camp and to the Birkenau Holocaust memorial, where the traditional Kaddish and El Maleh Rahamim prayers were recited in memory of the slain.
Delegates from 13 other countries as well as members of the clergy representing various churches in Poland also attended the joint Israel-Polish ceremony; together, they recited Psalms in honor of the victims. Survivors of Auschwitz, some wearing the same blue-striped hats they had worn when interned in the camps 70 years ago, placed remembrance candles at the memorial.
This year, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was commemorated at a time when anti-Semitic sentiment across Europe has surged.
According to an article on Sunday’s Israel National News website, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett presented some alarming statistics to the cabinet regarding antisemitism and its effects on Jewish life in the Diaspora. An online survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights revealed that 66 percent of polled respondents felt that antisemitism in Europe has a major and constant impact on their daily lives. This includes avoiding Jewish events and refraining from wearing Jewish symbols such as a kippa (skullcap) in public for fear of being attacked.
“European governments have expressed alarm over the trend,” Bennett said in an IDF Radio interview, “but what we really need to see is more efficient action [against antisemitism].”
Polling revealed that antisemitism is most prevalent in Hungary, Belgium, Sweden and France.
This phenomenon proved evident as recently as this past Sunday, when a protest march in Paris against French President Francois Hollande took an ugly anti-Semitic turn, as reported in Israel Hayom. Some 17,000 people attended the march. Protestors were heard chanting, “Jews, France is not your home,” and were seen gesturing the “quenelle,” a Nazi-style salute made popular by the French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Dieudonné’s shows have recently been outlawed due to their anti-Semitic and racist content.
London newspaper The Guardian reported that on Sunday, the Hungarian party Jobbik, whose leader Gabor Vona has been described as “one of Europe’s most electorally successful fascists,” held a rally in Hyde Park for Jobbik party sympathizers in London. The rally, intentionally timed to be held on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, went ahead despite attempts by anti-fascism groups and leading Jewish organizations to have Vona’s visit to the UK blocked by the Home Office.
Author: Rafi Karp, UWI contributor
Date: Jan. 28, 2014