International Holocaust Rememberance Day has been observed since 2005 throughout the world on 27 January, as a day of mourning over millions of Holocaust victims during the World War Two, of education on the ideological and historical roots of Holocaust and of fighting anti-Semitism and all other kinds of racism and bigotry. On 27 January 1945, Soviet soldiers have liberated Nazi-run concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau as the biggest site of physical extermination of Jews, as well as Roma, disabled people or other groups marked by the National Socialist ideology as inferior and/or perilous for the „new order“ which they had planned.
Each year, the commemoration has its specific theme. This year, the focus will be on the remained Holocaust survivors and their testimonies. Thus the motto „The Power of Words“.
Holocaust was among the biggest assaults on human rights in the entire history of mankind, since it was, on a grand scale, attacking the right to life as the most basic human right, on which all the other rights depend. Victims were chosen according to their race or other characteristics aqcuired by birth or origin. For instance, if they were born to Jewish ancestors, they were set to be exterminated.
Inspite of the enormous scale of Holocaust, there are repeated attempts in many countries to deny or minimize it. Usually, those attempts are part of the enduring anti-Semitism and often part of the far-right political strategy.
It is precisely the centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe that made so many people in the 1930s and 1940s, not least in Germany and Austria, but also many Nazi-collaborators or silent supporters in the occupied countries of Europe, participate in Holocaust as perpetrators, accomplices or idle by-standers. Anti-Semitism, historically, has had a number of facets – be it religious hatred disguised in theological garment, or racist theories of inferiority of certain races or ethnic groups, or modern versions of „political anti-Semitism“ which put emphasis on the alleged world-wide Jewish conspiracy, or demand the destruction of the state of Israel as such, or claim that Holocaust was invented.
Hence, continuous education on anti-Semitism, and fighting it along fighting all other kinds of bigotry, is a necessary part of the efforts aimed at advancing human rights and freedom.
Friedrich Naumann Foundation`s project Freedom Barometer, aimed at monitoring, measuring and evaluating freedom in 30 countries of Europe and Central Asia, is regularly, including in its section on human rights, monitoring and commenting issues of anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial. In its – so far three - Europe Editions, between 2015 and 2017, some of the most common forms of anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial in various monitored countries were mentioned and briefly described.
In Western Europe, the debate is on over the limits of freedom of speech and to what extent it could accomodate various interpretations of WW2 history. At the same time, there are more attacks on and more insecurity of Jewish people and organizations – this time, mainly, not attacked, as was common through ages, by bigots disguised as „true Christians“, but by those disguised as „true Muslims“. Anti-Semitic narrative is occasionally reviving even in some of the biggest, to it left-oriented, political parties in Europe, such as the Labour in the UK.
In the countries of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, the main form of Holocaust-denial are attempts to rehabilitate past perpetrators. In some, the role of domestic perpetrators (thus of a home-grown anti-Semitism), who provided Nazi-occupiers during WW2 with crucial logistic support, is neglected or even excluded. In others, domestic Nazis are celebrated as alleged freedom fighters who bravely opposed communism and fought against Soviet occupation and/or for national independence.
It gives ground to optimism that most governments in Europe do not support such a travesty. Notably in Lithuania and Estonia, political elites are recently making serious efforts to distinguish genuine anti-communism (and independentism) of the past and present from any historic revisionism that would rehabilitate fascism or Nazism, or deny their crimes, or deny the role of local perpetrators in those. Making such a distinction is especially important for Balkan countries, wherein often far-right agenda is smuggled as „anti-communism“ (while at the same time far-left agenda is smuggled as „anti-fascism“).
As this year`s Holocaust Memorial Day would be marked by oral history, it would be important and useful for future to once again carefully listen to victims, as well as to witnesses, of those horrific WW2 events.