During a joint International Holocaust Remembrance Day event, co-hosted by the European Commission and the European Jewish Congress (EJC), held online today, EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor called on the member states of the European Union to ensure that Holocaust survivors have access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
“We have all been lost during the current pandemic, but the survivors of the Holocaust even more so,” Dr. Kantor said. “Throughout their lives, they have shown mighty strength of spirit, but in the current crisis, many have sadly died alone and in pain, or are now fighting for their lives, and many others are suffering from extreme isolation. We have a duty to survivors, to ensure that they are able to live their last years in dignity, without fear, and in the company of their loved ones.”
“Therefore, I call on European leaders to ensure that Holocaust survivors have access as soon as possible to a safe and effective vaccination and with the highest priority.”
At the event, Dr. Kantor also spoke about how during the pandemic, hate, extremism and conspiracy theories have also spread globally.
“As we pay tribute to the victims of the biggest tragedy in history, we must not forget the fundamental lesson that in times of crisis, extremism can rise rapidly,” Dr. Kantor said. “The pandemic has created the social conditions where antisemitism and extremism thrive. The human mind, like the human body is fragile to mutating viruses. And so are our democracies and our shared values of human rights and freedoms.”
“We have a responsibility to prevent the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories, and I am pleased that the European Union and Member States are finally addressing this new threat by recognising that antisemitism needs to be fought across all policy areas.” Also speaking at the event was Vice-President of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas.
“This year, against the backdrop of the pandemic, we are all asked to find new forms of remembrance.” said VP Schinas. “It is a painful reminder of how incredible a privilege it is for our generation to be able to listen to the first-hand accounts of those who directly experienced the tragedy of the Holocaust. We have a duty to listen. To remember. But also, a duty to act decisively against antisemitism in its contemporary forms.”
Vice President Schinas was in conversation with Tomi Reichental, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, on the lessons of the Holocaust for 21st century Europe, new forms of remembrance, concepts of atonement and reconciliation, and our common duty to speak up and counter Holocaust denial and distortion. The conversation was moderated by EJC Director of European Affairs Ariella Woitchik.
Excerpts from the film “Close to Evil” were also shown at the event. The film is the compelling story of Reichental’s quest to meet one of the SS women who held him captive in Bergen- Belsen. The documentary has won prizes at the Galway Film Fleadh and the Irish Film Institute’s “Stranger than Fiction” Festival and was screened on RTE in 2014.
Watch the full video of the ceremony: