More than 70 years after the Shoah, it is incumbent upon us as Jews and as Europeans to maintain the memory of this most unique of genocides: the systematic murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators, representing a third of the world’s Jewish population half of the European Jewish population, and to draw the lessons from this tragedy for our own days.
With the sad passing of many survivors, we move, from the period of memory to the period of history. Our task becomes ever more difficult but also more important as we seek to transfer these lessons to future generations. Nothing can ever replace the testimony of a direct witness as a response to Holocaust denial and trivialisation. We must seek different methods to convey the same message of where hatred and intolerance and antisemitism lead. The most important of these is through education and the EJC works with governments and local authorities to ensure the insertion and maintenance of Holocaust education in curricular and non-curricular activities.
The EJC has also been instrumental in bringing the message of the Shoah on to the European level, both at the European Union and the Council of Europe. The commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the European Parliament is now an annual event, organised jointly by the European Jewish Congress and successive presidents of the European Parliament. Keynote speakers at these commemorations have included in recent years: former President of the United States Barack Obama (via video), former Presidents of Israel Moshe Katsav and Shimon Peres, former President of Ukraine Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko, President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, former President of Bulgaria Rosen Plevneliev, former Presidents of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Lech Kaczyński, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Greece Antonis Samaras, former Presidents of the European Parliament – Hans-Gert Pöttering, Jerzy Buzek, Martin Schulz and Antonio Tajani, former President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis, presidents of over 25 national parliaments from Europe and beyond, including Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Holocaust Survivors – Elie Wiesel, Samuel Pisar, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Beate Klarsfeld and many others.
Moreover, at the personal initiative and commitment of EJC President Moshe Kantor, the International ‘Let My People Live!’ Forums at Auschwitz, Babi Yar and Prague have mobilised politicians, civil society and the media in the broad spreading of the message of Shoah memory. With the growth of far-right and xenophobic parties in Europe clearly linked to the dulling of sensitivity and memory of the destruction of WWII and the Shoah, Holocaust memory takes on added value not only as preservation of the past, but also as guarantor of a future for our children as Jews and European citizens, sharing values of democracy, freedom and tolerance.
We are conscious of our unique responsibility as the second and third generation after the Shoah to observe the 614th commandment of Emil Fackenheim to not give Hitler a posthumous victory. Our presence and visibility as proud Jews in Europe is the greatest testament to this commitment.