What will be remembered from this week? Will it be the election of a new Israeli government? The inauguration of Barack Obama to a second term in the White House?
These events feel highly significant, but I would argue that, in the grand sweep of history, there is a third event with far greater importance. Governments come and go, but the fate of six million Jews who suffered and died under the Nazis from 1933 to 1945 will be remembered forever. In November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly issued a remarkable, unanimous resolution to mark January 27 as an annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day. One cannot but admire the current deputy secretary general of the UN, at the time the chairman of the UN General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, for having managed to get all of the UN member states to unite behind the resolution.
January 27 was the day when the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was finally liberated by the Allied Forces, and the rebuilding of Europe and Israel, and, one could add, the international community, could begin. Europeans and Israelis should never forget how our past and our future are intertwined. The project to build a new Europe rests on the three ”never agains.”
Never again should the Jewish people in Europe be let down.
Never again should European conflicts be resolved with arms.
The third lesson is equally important. History had once again proved that the nations could not provide a safe haven for the Jewish people, where they could live in security; hence the need to re-create a Jewish state in Palestine. The pledge to do so, under international law, had already been made in San Remo on April 25, 1920. However, the grim realization that preventing or prolonging the process would cost literally millions of Jewish lives could not have been clearer.
Never again should the survival of the Jewish people rest on the ambiguous intentions of the other nations of the world. It should be decided by the Jews themselves.
In 2005, our organization, European Coalition for Israel (a non-Jewish initiative to build good relations between Europe and Israel), initiated and organized the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the European Parliament in Brussels. Over the years, Holocaust survivors and European leaders have stood side by side to pledge ”never again.”
Last year, the newly elected president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz of Germany, gave a moving speech where he went so far as to say that his number-one priority as president would be to protect the Jewish people. He also stated that Holocaust denial would no longer be tolerated in the European Parliament.
As we gather this week to commemorate the 9th Annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the European Parliament in Brussels, we are faced with the grim realities of Europe today. Not only is anti-Semitism on the rise in countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, France and Sweden, but it has even made its way into the heart of the European peace project, the European Parliament. There are now elected members there who openly deny the Holocaust; not to mention the large contingent of members who will do almost anything to discredit the modern state of Israel. In so doing, they disregard Israel’s need for safety and security in an increasingly chaotic and radicalized environment.
This is why this is a week ”to remember.” Looking back at this week 50 years from now, we may or may not consider the Israeli elections on Tuesday or the presidential inauguration on Monday as defining historical events. One thing that we will not, and cannot, forget is the loss of six million Jews in the heartland of Europe.