There are many times in life when one can look back and proclaim: “if only events had been different the results would not have been so dire.”
The seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the commemorations associated with that are a case in point. As I write these lines Jerusalem is preparing to lock down and residents are bracing themselves for a week of not only stormy winter weather but also travel and traffic chaos associated with the arrival of about 49 VIP leaders from around the world. A special ceremony is scheduled at Yad Vashem where speeches will be made by former allies, UK, USA, France and Russia as well as the German President and of course the Israeli President & PM.
It was inevitable that an outbreak of broigus would occur and thus it has proven. The Polish President is not coming because he has a disagreement with Vladimir Putin who has questioned the Polish role in the War. This gettogether promises a feast of high flying rhetoric, collective but restrained breast-beating and extravagant promises to prevent another such tragedy as the Holocaust. With Jew and Israel hatred on the rise internationally it will be interesting to see how these speakers intend to deal with this resurrected virus.
To begin with, let me make it clear that obviously none of those attending had anything to do with their country’s conduct either pre or post-war. The question is however whether they will acknowledge actions taken against Jews at those times or whether these awkward matters will be conveniently wiped from collective memories. The second disclosure I should make is that I have a particular interest in this event because my paternal grandparents and extended family were transported from Karlsruhe, Germany, to Auschwitz (via the Gurs internment camp in France) thanks to the willing co-operation of the French railways. Not one of them survived the hell of Auschwitz. I am sure that never in their wildest dreams would they ever have believed that restored Jewish sovereignty was anything other than an illusion and that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would live as proud Jews there.
The list of attendees makes interesting reading. Most of Europe is represented (except Poland) as well as Scandinavian countries. Notable absences include New Zealand and South Africa both of whom fought with the Allies. As the latter has adopted an anti-Israel/anti-Zionist policy these days it’s no surprise they decided to skip the commemoration. What New Zealand’s excuse is I do not know. Also missing is Ireland who pulled out after saying they would attend. Their refusal to fight on the side of the Allies and remain neutral and their current anti-Israel stance and support of BDS no doubt was a factor in shunning this commemoration. Another “pull out” is the President of Lithuania, a country where during the Holocaust the vast majority of Jews were murdered with the enthusiastic collaboration of Lithuanian Nazi supporters.
Many Israelis are amazed that 49 Heads of State are coming here but when one realizes that 193 nations are members of the UN you need to question the importance of Holocaust remembrance in the rest of the world.
As eulogies burst forth and emotions erupt, those listening, including media and the general public need to remember some politically incorrect facts which may continue to be buried beneath a shroud of historical amnesia.
Poland loves to portray itself as a Garden of Eden for its pre-War Jewish citizens. However, according to historians: Prior to World War II, anti-Semitism was an increasingly visible factor in Polish society, and government authorities took formal measures to exclude Jews from key sectors of public life. A nationalism deeply rooted in Catholicism was central to that struggle.
On the eve of the Holocaust, Polish Jews made up some 10 per cent of the young country’s population and approximately one-third of the residents of the capital city, Warsaw. Disturbed by what they saw as outsized Jewish influence, some Polish politicians even pressed for the mass emigration of Poland’s Jewish population.
When concentration survivors returned after the war to reclaim stolen property, pogroms broke out and Jews were once again murdered. As one Holocaust survivor recently recalled being told: “Hitler promised to get rid of all of the Jews, and here they come home”. In Poland, as in other occupied countries, there were indeed some righteous non-Jews who hid and saved Jews but in the overall scheme of things these courageous individuals were but a drop in an ocean of hate and collaboration. Denmark saved most of its Jews and thanks to the active intervention of Bulgarian Church leaders who managed to convince the King to intervene a large proportion of that country’s Jewish citizens were protected.
What about other countries?
Stalin suspended his anti-Jewish campaign for the duration of the war but immediately afterwards started purges of Zionists heralding the official Soviet campaign to demonize Jews who supported the recreation of a Jewish State. He was the pioneer of those who today engage in similar activities.
The British barred the gates of Mandated Palestine preventing those fleeing Nazi persecution from seeking a safe haven and following the war continued this unbelievably antisemitic policy against survivors. On the other hand, the UK was the only country to admit Jewish children with the Kindertransport organized mainly by the Jewish Community and heroes such as the late Lord Winton.
The Roosevelt administration turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of European Jewry and American Jewish leadership mainly failed to mount any major protest. The saga of the ship “St. Louis” carrying German Jews who were refused entry to Cuba and then denied entry to the USA being returned to Europe epitomizes the callous indifference prevailing at that time. Then there is the failure to bomb the railway lines carrying Jews to Auschwitz even though targets on the flight path were hit.
There was hardly any country willing to admit Jews even for a temporary period. Will any of the leaders here for the commemoration admit to this gross failure of moral fiber? The words “VICHY” and “QUISLING” should also remind us of the sordid collaboration undertaken in France and Norway. Resistance fighters notwithstanding the record of these two countries is not exactly stellar.
This brings us to the present day.
How can one remain silent and mute when most of the countries present at Yad Vashem are complicit in helping Iran to bust sanctions and advance their agenda of developing nuclear warheads for their missiles in order to achieve their declared aim of eliminating Israel? The destruction of Israel would result in the murder of millions more Jews. Do the leaders spouting eulogies not realize that their countries’ current policies will inevitably result in another Holocaust? Is this not the height of hypocrisy?
Prince Charles, President Putin, President Macron and the Australian Governor-General are all slated to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the President for life of the Palestinian Authority. What on earth are these leaders doing paying homage to a Holocaust revisionist and spreader of conspiracy theories at the same time as they attend an event dedicated to the very crimes which Abbas minimizes and distorts?
Is this not an unbelievable act of double standards? Will anyone protest this insensitive act? Don’t hold your breath.
After the “show” is over and the 49 visitors depart will anything have changed?
Time will tell but history teaches us that it is highly unlikely.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.
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