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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 25-01-2020 10:09

Honour the dead and attend to the living

It is impossible to think that Man could submit one of its own kind to such an experience as the Holocaust.

This Monday, January 27, 75 years will have passed since that icy day in 1945 when the Red Army, on its unstoppable advance towards Berlin while crossing Poland, found that hell had opened up a branch on Earth. Oswiecim was the name they read on the maps. But the industrial complex that was created to produce death would became known as Auschwitz.

Presuming themselves the most cultured people in the world and inspired by Dante Allighieri’s words, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” the Nazis adorned the entrance to their own inferno with “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free.” Not even the worst nightmares of Virgil and Dante could begin to come close to the horrors of Auschwitz.

It is impossible to think that Man could submit one of its own kind to such an experience. In getting this done, the Nazis had first to theorise, practise, teach and impose on a whole society the belief that their victims were not human. Only by making their victims things or simply worse than animals was it possible to inflict such treatment on them.

Auschwitz did not start in the early 1940s in order to hasten a “Final Solution” to the Jewish issue but in 1919. Hitler had expressed this idea in writing in a letter sent to a German Army officer Adolf Gemlich. Today, the original is exhibited at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

What was really worrying was the process that allowed this crackpot idea to be transformed into a State Policy. As was the silence and passivity of the rest of the peoples of the world.

As the old joke says, dear reader, I have good and bad news.

In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly established January 27 as the “International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust,” thus encouraging State Members to remember and educate their citizens on the subject.

In 2000, on the impulse of the former Swedish prime minister Göran Persson, together with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, 55 years after the same event we are dealing with today, the Declaration of Stockholm was finalised. This Declaration created the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an organisation integrated by representations of democratic countries who se purpose is to remember, educate and prevent recurrence of the Shoah, reaffirming its unique and universal character.

This institution today has 34 full member nations (Argentina is the only one in Latin America) and nearly a dozen observers (Uruguay and El Salvador in this region). In 2016, the IHRA approved a working definition on anti-Semitism, a very useful tool for standing up against this cancer.

Last week the world witnessed the highest representation of member nations in Jerusalem, who were invited to Yad Vashem, the most internationally recognised Institution on the Shoah, showing an unavoidable commitment to remembrance and, as is said in Argentina, “Nunca más.

In October 2020, Sweden will organise a Conference in the city of Malmö, to reconfirm the commitment to the Stockholm Declaration after 20 years.

It is very common, even today, to hear: “I have nothing against Jews, but…” Grammatically, ‘but”’ is an adversative conjunction. And clearly what follows next in the sentence is an adversity.

The aforementioned practical definition of the IHRA is a ‘but’ detector, so that those who do not realise they are still carrying within themselves a quota of anti-Semitism finally assume it and so that States can detect it in order to fight against.

Already a good number of nations as well as international organisations have adopted the practical definition as a method of striving against anti-Semitism. In Latin America, the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Argentina, has been a pioneer in its adoption, marked through an administrative resolution on the occasion of an anti-Semitism complaint put forth by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 2019.

The memory of those who lost their life (or to what later remained of it), and the honouring of the Holocaust’s survivors, were a pending account that all these measures tend to repair.

But it is not enough. And this is when the bad news comes: 75 years after Auschwitz’s “liberation,” how does the world find us?

France, the European country with the largest Jewish population, has become dangerous for our community. The last exhibition of such anti-Semitism was at the release of the murderer of an Orthodox Jew who, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and after brutally attacking her, threw the victim from a balcony, causing her death. The judges understood that he had acted under the influence of drugs and that he was not responsible for his actions.

In a Sweden that’s always politically correct, neo-Nazis and Jihadists live together. They hate each other, but together they have – for the first time since World War II – created a situation in which Malmö’s synagogues cannot celebrate Jewish holidays due to lack of State guarantees over safety.

The United Kingdom voted by a large majority that Jeremy Corbyn – a leader who transformed a Labour party that historically hosted Jews in its ranks, into a nest of anti-Semites and terrorist glorifiers – cannot be their Prime Minister.

Germany speaks about its responsibility against anti-Semitism, while such speech is more present than ever since the end of World War II. Some politicians have even suggested that Jews do not use the kippah.

We must not ignore either that Spain has invested a declared anti-Semite like Pablo Iglesias as vice-president. He has previously declared that “the Holocaust was a merely bureaucratic problem.”

Across the Atlantic, the American dream begins to show serious disturbances too. Neo-Nazi demonstrations, deadly attacks on religious centres and on Orthodox Jews on the streets. Openly anti-Semitic representatives in the Capitol and even more seasoning: American Jews that deny their roots and repudiate Israel in their need to show their high level of patriotism, so as to be more accepted. Almost like the prelude to Nazism, when German Jews needed to show themselves more Teutons than Hebrews.

In addition to all above, Iran and its denial of the Shoah, its promoting of the destruction of the State of Israel, the so-called international progressivism that stands by the side of those who would not hesitate for a second to destroy them, repeating slogans whose veracity they have not checked; those who are solely worried by human rights if the condemnation is against Israel and, by extension repelling the Jews all ... this is the ‘but’ we spoke about before.

The story goes that when Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake, a tsunami and plague, all successively in the year 1755, the King, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the events, could not react. So, he delegated power to someone who would become a huge national hero, the Marquis of Pombal. Faced with such adversity, he left a political and historical legacy: “Bury the dead and feed the living.”

That legacy, applied to what lessons must be learned, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, would be translated today as “honour the dead and attend the living.”

Apparently, in 75 years, the world dealt only with the former part.

It’s time to look each other in the eye and take care of the living too, so that tomorrow we do not need to set another date to mourn for.

In this news

Ariel Gelblung

Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Director for Latin America.

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