Auschwitz: Playing politics with a Holocaust memorial
The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz should have been a moment for solemn reflection, said Sabine Müller in Germany’s Tagesschau.de. But when dozens of world leaders gathered in Israel last week to commemorate the arrival of the Soviet army at the Nazi death camp, they used the occasion to grandstand and squabble. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at least, said all the right things. Speaking at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, Steinmeier said Germany took full responsibility for the “industrial mass murder of 6 million Jews” in the Holocaust—1 million of whom died at Auschwitz. “I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all,” Steinmeier said, adding that he couldn’t, because anti-Semitism is again on the rise. Last October, an armed neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, killing two people when he couldn’t gain entry. “The perpetrators are not the same,” Steinmeier said, “but it is the same evil.” These were worthy words, unlike those spoken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who “hijacked the commemoration” for political ends. He urged world leaders to unite against his arch-enemy, Iran, calling Tehran “the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to wage “information warfare,” said Edwin Bendyk in Polityka (Poland). He began spreading lies in the weeks before the anniversary, absurdly suggesting that Poland was responsible for starting World War II—and glossing over the deal that Stalin struck with Hitler in August 1939 to carve up Poland. In his Yad Vashem speech, Putin didn’t mention Poland by name but claimed that the Nazis wouldn’t have been able to build death camps without the cooperation of local people. Auschwitz is located in Poland; “the allusion is clear.” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, meanwhile, wasn’t even at the Israeli event, having boycotted out of pique that Putin got to speak while he did not. Duda left a statement insisting that Poland was a victim of the Holocaust, not a perpetrator.
Both Putin and Duda demonstrate precisely the wrong way to think about the Holocaust, said Andreas Breitenstein in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland): “nationalizing it to immunize one’s country against attacks.” All European societies must look within to understand how the state apparatus can be mobilized for the purpose of genocide. Every year, there are fewer Holocaust survivors left to bear firsthand witness, and “there is growing concern that sooner or later the Shoah will fall into oblivion.” That’s why we must require all young Germans to visit a former Nazi concentration camp before graduating high school, said Rune Weichert in Stern (Germany). One in five Germans thinks we place too much emphasis on the Holocaust. Those that are “physically confronted” with the crime, though, come away understanding that Auschwitz is not about history, but about preventing an evil future. ■