Victoria Petroff
International journalist and producer

Why Europe should not forget the Holocaust

On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, just 400000 Holocaust survivors are still alive (Sputnik/B. Fischmann)

Politicians and experts around the world are increasingly concerned that the majority of European citizens does not know what the Holocaust is. And, particularly they do not know who and how saved Europe from this inhumane act. What is the reason for this silence on history? And why have political parties become more active in discussing the topic of anti-Semitism and its manifestations? 

January 27 is no longer just a date in the calendar around the world. This is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. On this day millions of people around the world light memorial candles and remember the most terrible and inhuman period of the last century. One of these people is the artist Frederic Terna. Today he is 96 years old and he lives in a quiet area of New York (USA), but the word “Auschwitz” still makes him shiver. Each painting of the artist is a part of his memories. “The camp still lives inside me,” Frederick says, and draws a red flame on the canvas. Terna was sent to Auschwitz from the Czech Republic in September 1944. He is the only survivor of the Holocaust of all his family.  

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“It’s hard to imagine that something like this could happen today. This is hell. People will never forget about this. It is simply impossible to forget. Sometimes I tell students about my life in the camp. And I really hope that there will be those among them who will be able to pass on my memories to the next generations,” – Frederick says. 

Terna is mostly concerned about the recent attacks on synagogues in the United States. He sees this as an echo of the war, drawing an analogy with the events of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938. 

“There will always be people full of hatred in this world. They are ready for anything. And we need to remember history so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” – Frederick says. 

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Unfortunately, according to a recent survey in Europe, not everyone remembers history. According to the results, every fourth European citizen does not know what the Holocaust is. And especially about the multi-million victims of this period. The problem of misperception of the Holocaust in Europe is very acute today. They have been talking about it for years. And this applies not only to the education of European youth, but also to the policy of anti-Semitism that is flourishing in various governmental bodies. 

Dr Marcus Papadopoulos, a famous British political analyst and historian, an editor of “Politics First” magazine has always drawn attention to the problem of understanding of the Holocaust among Europeans. 

Dr Marcus Papadopoulos (right) is a famous British political analyst and historian, an editor of “Politics First” magazine (Twitter/Dr Marcus Papadopoulos)

“A curtain of ignorance, disinterest and detachment has descended in Europe and this is especially the case in Britain. More and more people are showing no inclination, whatsoever, to learn about history, preferring, instead, to read about celebrity culture or reality television, – says Marcus Papadopoulos. – The level of ignorance in Britain and elsewhere in Europe surrounding the Holocaust or the role of the Red Army in the defeat of Nazism, is astounding. And what is even worse than that startling reality is that when I try to enlighten people about how, for instance, the Second World War was decided on the Eastern Front, or that one of the worst genocides in human history occurred only seven decades ago in Europe, they show little, if any, willingness to learn more about the aforementioned subjects and, if I am to be candid, show little to no interest on the matters in the first place. Depressingly and worryingly, Europe is no longer a leading centre in the world for culture and enlightenment; instead, Europe, and in particular Britain, has embraced materialism and decadence. Cultural degeneration has taken hold in Europe and shows no signs of abating”. 

Every year during the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony the thorny issue of ignoring the lessons of history is raised. Last year the head of the European Jewish Congress, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, said that the story of the ship “St. Louis” in 1939 proved that countries were doing nothing to prevent the extermination of Jews. All the 254 passengers of the ship died in Auschwitz only because no country wanted to accept those unfortunate people. And now history starts to repeat itself. Politicians continue to blame Jews for the problems of their countries.

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“Any form of racism, including Russophobia and anti-Semitism, must not be tolerated whatsoever, – emphasizes Marcus Papadopoulos. – However, it is very evident that there are political forces in Europe who are using anti-Semitism as a political weapon, coupled with exploiting the Holocaust, to silence criticism of the Israeli’s state treatment of the Palestinians. That manipulation and exploitation is wrong on so many levels but is also dangerous as it can result in encouraging anti-Semitism. Sadly, in Europe today, it is all so easy to label someone whom you disagree with as racist, sexist or homophobic. That is disastrous for meaningful debates and countering racism”. 

Bronia Brandman has also lived through all the horrors of Auschwitz and cannot accept the fact that sometimes it takes too long to explain to modern youth what has happened not only to her, but also to millions of Jews in Europe. She was 12 years old when she was sent to the camp with three sisters. She is the only one that survived. The sisters died in the gas chamber, and she made a deal with Josef Mengele himself to get her off the list of death. Today she is 88 years old, she lives in the United States and still cannot cry. Bronia says it is all caused by fear, the fear that the Holocaust will happen again in Europe. 

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“It’s terrible. There is a lot of open anti-Semitism on the streets. It’s not over. Things are getting worse. And I’m afraid again,” – Bronia Brandman says. 

Moreover, there has been an increase in cases of Holocaust denial in Europe. This is also a form of anti-Semitism. Last year a working group was set up in the European Parliament to define antisemitism in the legislation of EU member states. Why have the authorities decided to raise this issue so urgently? Representatives of the Jewish community believe that anti-Semitism has become a certain part of the political culture of Europe. Right-wing and left-wing forces in Europe and the UK use these views as a political project. For example, they rewrite history. The fact that the Auschwitz concentration camp was freed by the Red Army has not been mentioned in the European Parliament for several years. And in Poland, they simply demolished monuments dedicated to the Soviet wars. 

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“Anti-Semitism exists on the Right and on the Left in politics, as do other forms of racism, and this must be combatted. It should also be said that anti-Semitism exists in all of the churches of the world – catholic, protestant and orthodox, – says political analyst and historian Markus Papadopoulos. – But society must not allow certain political forces, who are pro-Israeli, from saying that criticism of the state of Israel or boycotting products from Israel is anti-Semitism per se because it is simply not. When there was a boycott of goods from Apartheid South Africa, no-one involved in that boycott was accused of racism towards Afrikaners. If debates about the shocking and appalling treatment of Palestinians are shut down because they are deemed to be anti-Semitic, then I am afraid to say that this will serve only to encourage anti-Semitism. In short, zealot and bigoted defenders of the Israeli state are playing straight into the hands of true anti-Semites”. 

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Today it is necessary not only to introduce the study of the Holocaust in schools and universities, but also to hold commemorative events, to give young people the opportunity to meet with those who survived the horrors of the war. There are so few of them left. This is the only way to make sure that the stories of former Auschwitz prisoners, such as Bronia Brandman and Frederic Terna, will remain in the memory of the European people and serve as a lesson in our history.

About the Author
Victoria Petroff (Petrova) has over eleven years of experience in the field of media (including online, print media and TV). She is an editor, celebrity journalist, international producer, correspondent, and chief-editor on the big federal TV-channels. Victoria did contract work as a chief-editor in different countries and took part in the world-wide project from NBC Channel (USA).
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