World remembers Holocaust as antisemitism rises amid pandemic

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Survivors have recalled their agony to a world they fear is forgetting, Israel’s parliamentary speaker wept in the German parliament and politicians warned of a resurgence of antisemitism on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The day falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of the death camps where Nazi Germany carried out its Final Solution seeking to murder the Jewish people of Europe.

At the memorial site in Poland, which was subjected to a brutal German occupation during the Second World War, a small number of survivors gathered in an auditorium.

Poland Holocaust Remembrance
Survivors of Nazi German concentration camps listen (AP)

Nazi forces killed 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, most of them Jews, but also Poles, Roma and others, and the site today stands as a powerful symbol of how hatred and indifference led to the Holocaust.

Commemorations everywhere took place amid a rise of antisemitism that gained traction during lockdowns as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated hatred online.

German parliament speaker Baerbel Bas noted that the coronavirus pandemic has acted “like an accelerant” to already burgeoning antisemitism.

“Antisemitism is here — it isn’t just on the extreme fringe, not just among the eternally incorrigible and a few antisemitic trolls on the net,” she said. “It is a problem of our society — all of society.”

In recent days, a 12-year-old Jewish boy was attacked in Italy and subjected to antisemitic slurs while two men were attacked in London.

Germany Holocaust Remembrance
Inge Auerbacher hugs German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Markus Schreiber/AP)

“Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened and hatred of Jews is commonplace again in many countries in the world, including Germany.

“This sickness must be healed as quickly as possible.”

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2005 establishing International Holocaust Remembrance Day as an annual commemoration, and chose January 27 — the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945.

In all, about six million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. Some 1.5 million were children.

“Our country bears a special responsibility — the genocide against the European Jews is a German crime,” Ms Bas said in the German parliament.

Israel’s parliamentary speaker Mickey Levy broke down in tears in the Bundestag while reciting the Jewish mourner’s prayer from a prayer book that belonged to a German Jewish boy who celebrated his bar mitzvah on the eve of Kristallnacht, an outburst of anti-Jewish violence in 1938.

Germany Holocaust Remembrance Day
Mickey Levy during the commemoration in the German Bundestag (Kay Nietfeld/dpa/AP)

At the European Parliament, EU legislators listened to 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander’s ordeal.

She was arrested in 1944 while on the run and taken to Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic. A year before, her mother and brother had been deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed.

Ms Friedlander and her husband emigrated to the US in 1946 and she returned to Berlin in 2010. She has since been travelling around Germany to tell her story and promote remembrance.

“We must be vigilant and not look the other way as we did then,” she said. “Hatred, racism and antisemitism must not be the last word in history.”

Charles Michel, the head of the European Council bringing together leaders of the 27 EU member countries, insisted on the importance of commemorating the Shoah as the number of survivors diminishes every year.

“With each passing year, the Shoah inches towards becoming a historical event,” he said. “More and more distant, more and more abstract. Especially in the eyes of the younger generations of Europeans.

“This is why, paradoxically, the more the years go by, the more important the commemoration becomes. The more essential.”

To tackle Holocaust denial, Unesco and the World Jewish Congress launched a partnership on Thursday with the online platform TikTok, to allow users to be oriented toward verified information when searching for terms related to the Shoah.

According to the UN, 17% of content related to the Holocaust on TikTok either denied or distorted the Holocaust.

In Italy, members of the Jewish community and legislators gathered in Rome’s ghetto to lay a wreath where more than 1,000 people were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz on October 16 1943.

In Albania, foreign minister Olta Xhacka honoured the millions of victims while taking pride in his country’s role in sheltering Jews.

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