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Remembering the Holocaust and fighting anti-Semitism without politics

Poland's decision to skip this week's World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem over not being invited to speak is most regrettable

The focus of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum is the historic gesture of some 50 world leaders who will gather at Yad Vashem in Israel 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their express goal in attending the Forum is to remember the Holocaust and fight contemporary antisemitism, a very significant problem that needs to be dealt with in a concerted manner.

Antisemitism lay at the heart of the Holocaust. It motivated not only the Nazis, but also many other people across Europe who became complicit in their genocidal crimes. It can be argued that antisemitism was a major factor in the outbreak of World War II, which caused the death of tens of millions across the face of the globe. The fact that antisemitism remains robust today, in the very lifetime of many who were persecuted during the Holocaust, is beyond troubling. Given where it has led humanity in the past, this nefarious and dangerous phenomenon must be confronted and pushed back into the margins of society.

The distortion of history by public figures, politicians and others is not new, and regarding World War II and the Holocaust has roots in the events themselves and certainly in their immediate aftermath. The intent of the event at Yad Vashem is to rise above political debate, and make a statement of consensus that the Holocaust must remain in our awareness and antisemitism must be addressed. It is unfortunate that this important focus may be diluted due to ongoing arguments in the public discourse, whose origins are politically and ideologically motivated.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and the historians and educators associated with Yad Vashem endeavor to steer a course that stays away from politics, and instead put forth the highest level and most objective narrative and analysis of the Holocaust, based on historical documentation, testimonies and the work of serious scholars around the world. While Yad Vashem cooperates with persons and institutions with which it has varying levels of disagreement, in almost all cases it prefers to maintain a dialogue rather than to cut off discussion due to differences of opinion and worldview. It would be nigh impossible for there to be a situation in which politics and ideology would not intrude on an event like this.

The decision about who will speak at the Forum was taken long before the most recent headlines regarding Poland, Russia and the outbreak of World War II. It was clear from the outset that those addressing the unprecedented gathering would be representatives of the four allies that defeated the Nazi threat in Europe, Germany for its historic responsibility and commitment to future generations, and the hosts of the event. Clearly, it would be impossible to hold a reasonably timed event with more than 40 speakers. However, due to the importance of each and every leader of nations in this mission, it was decided that all of the invited guests would submit a letter for a book that is being published to mark the event.

Of course, there are reasonable arguments why any of the many other leaders of nations should address the forum, but for the reasons stated above this was not possible. It is most regrettable that instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with other world leaders to remember what happened at Auschwitz and make a public stand against the very real threat of modern-day antisemitism, the Polish president could not rise above various political considerations, and has decided not to attend this extraordinary event.

About the Author
Dr. Robert Rozett is Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research a Yad Vashem, is the author of Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front (Yad Vashem, 2013), and co-editor with Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto of After So Much Pain and Anguish: First Letters after Liberation (Yad Vashem, 2016).
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