Lessons from History are our Legacy for Future

February 20, 2019

10 min read

Apparently, as Karl Marx once said: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” nowadays, we are facing the extremely sad and frightening situation in our postmodern digital civilization, where the lack of interest, knowledge and education, in spite of all available sources, serve as the perfect soil for the growth of revisionism, historical negationism and extreme right and neofascist thoughts, ideas, ideology and political movements. This general and generalized statement may be applied, to some extent, virtually to every, and any western society, traditionally claimed as democratic. What seems to be even more frightening is the fact that the policy creators, the decision makers and the responsible for the society development – the, so-called elites do not seem be frightened at all.

The desperate need for education

In a recent study performed by the Schoen Consulting 1 regarding the awareness and the knowledge of the Holocaust (The Shoah) among young Americans, aged 18 and over, 70% agree that fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to and 58% believe something similar might happen again. A tragedy or a farce? Worse than anyone could expect, 22% of the

1 The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany commissioned Schoen Consulting to conduct a national study of Holocaust knowledge and awareness in the United States. Schoen Consulting conducted 1,350 interviews with American adults aged 18 and over between February 23 – 27, 2018.

millennials have not heard or are not sure if they have heard about the Holocaust and 41% of them believe that approximately 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Shoah. The lack of knowledge and proper education reflects in the fact that 49% of the millennials were not able to name one of the concentration camps or ghettos in Europe and 66% of them were not even able to identify Auschwitz.

In his recent text entitled “Why we need to rethink how to teach the Holocaust”, professor Alan Marcus 2, from the University of Connecticut stresses the importance of the Holocaust survivors in education, stating the following: “Without survivors, the Holocaust will pass into being taught strictly from learned memory.” Numerous Holocaust museums, Memorials and their information centers have important role in knowledge dissemination among students of all ages, at least that is what one of their roles is expected to be.

A lesson from Budapest…

There are however cases of severe polemics, as some of the “new” and National Holocaust museums in Europe, instead of stating the facts about the Holocaust tend to hide or even worse, diminish the role and responsibility of the state and the society. A lot has been written about the situation in Hungary about the Museum of the Holocaust. It was already stated that the museum should meet its objective historical standards. Herb Keinon 3 stated that Yad Vashem publicly criticized the museum for ignoring the anti-Jewish laws passed by the Government in Budapest in 1938, for the deaths of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in forced labor, again imposed by the

2 Marcus A. Why we need to rethink how to teach the Holocaust. The Conversation. May 23, 2018

3 Keinon H. New Holocaust Museum in Hungary won’t open without narrative consensus. The Jeursalem Post, December 6, 2018

Government in Budapest and for the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and the participation of the Hungarian authorities in the deportation. Following the rule, this turns out to be the political issue, where the ruling politicians, particularly the Prime Minister Orban instead of facing the truth and fighting for facts, decided to enter the polemics, which usually contains the most common and recognizable aspects of anti-Semitism.

Warsaw Ghetto Museum polemics

To some extent similar polemics follow the planned Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is expected to be opened in 2023 commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In a recent text by Ofer Aderet 4, the Isreali appointed chief historian of the Museum, professor Daniel Blatman, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said: “It sounds very strange, but it will be the first Polish museum dealing with the Holocaust, even though Poland had an endless number of Polish commemoration sites”. Professor Blatman was recently criticized for the decision to accept the position. Again, instead of the fight for historical facts, the Polish right-wing authorities were criticized for the tendency to reshape the memory of the nation and minimize the Polish responsibility in the WW2, particularly regarding the persecution of the Jews. The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki 5 in February

4 Aderet O. Wild Card at Poland’s First Holocaust Museum: The ‘Polish Narrative’. Haaretz. December 14, 2018

5 Mateusz Morawiecki (b. 1968) is the Prime Minister of Poland. He is a Polish manager and banker, politician. Morawiecki is an alumnus of the University of Wrocław (MBA at Wrocław University of Economics), the University of Hamburg and the University of Basel. In 2013, he was awarded the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity for his merits for the benefit of independence and sovereignty of Poland and respect of human rights. On 23 June 2015 Morawiecki was awarded Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for extraordinary merits in the area of supporting and

2018, he stated in The Independent 6 paradoxically “there were Jewish perpetrators of the Holocaust”. Such statements coming from the leading political elite of a country led to the rise of the state-supported anti-Semitism. On the beginning of the year 2018, the Polish authorities imposed the law 7 to “defend the good name of Poland”, signed in Febraury by the President Andrzej Duda. The law included the following: “Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.” The law was “corrected” following the international reactions to the surprise of the Polish authorities.

Regarding the museum, the Polish Minister of Culture, Piotr Glinski said: “I would like this institution to speak of the mutual love between the two nations that spent 800 years here, on Polish land.” Could this be the aim of the museum dedicated to the Warsaw ghetto? Could we speak of brotherhood and unity, solidarity and equality in the context of the historical events that preceded the creation and the end of the Warsaw ghetto and the atmosphere created by the right-wing Polish authorities? According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, before the WW2, Warsaw was the major center of Jewish life and culture in Poland. The prewar Jewish population was more than 350,000 (30% of the city total population), considered the largest community in Poland and Europe, second largest in the world only to New York. Could we speak of tolerance during the period of 800 years, promoting Polish culture and national heritage. (source: premier.gov.pl)

6 Oppenheim M. Benjamin Netanyahu attacks Polish PM for saying Jews were among perpetrators of the Holocaust. Independent. February 18, 2018

7 Poland Holocaust law: Government U-turn on jail threat. BBC News, Europe, June 27, 2018 (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44627129)

which the Minister mentioned, although historical sources speak of 1,000 years? Of around six million Jews persecuted during the Shoah, around 3 million were the Polish Jews out of 3.3 million who lived in Poland before WW2. The major death camps were built on the Polish soil: Auschwitz – Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Chelmno, Belzec, Janowska, Plaszow, Starachowice, Poniatowa, Trawniki, Skarzysko-Kamienna, Budzyn…

The Polish historian Jan Grabowski 8 in his study “Hunt for the Jews 9” stated that under the German occupation at least 200,000 Jews who escaped from the ghettos were murdered or denounced by the Poles. It is also worth mentioning that more Poles have been honored by Israel for saving the lives of Jews during the war than any other nation.

Numerous examples of crimes, from systematic and organized massacres to “spontaneous” pogroms of Jewish population occurred in Poland before and lasted after the WW2, from Lomza, Jewabne and Bialystok to Kielce 1946, with hundreds of cemeteries being systematically destroyed. Even in the frame of the European Union, decades following the WW2, according to the study by the Center for research on Prejudice of the University of Warsaw in 2016 10: 37% of the surveyed Poles expressed negative

8 Dr. Jan Grabowski (b. 1962) is currently Professor of History at the University of Ottawa (Canada). He holds a PhD from the Université de Montréal (Canada) and an MA in History from Warsaw University (Poland). Dr. Grabowski (co- founder of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw in 2003) is a prolific author who has produced over 14 monographs and more than 60 articles in various languages. (https://www.ushmm.org)

9 Grabowski J. Hunt for the Jews – Betrayal and murder in German-occupied Poland. Indiana University press, Bloomington 2013. Dr Grabowski dedicated the book to his father who survived the hunt. He won the Yad Vashem International Book Prize for 2014 (https://www.ushmm.org)

10 Anti-Semitism seen on the rise in Poland. AFP. The Times of Israel. January 25, 2017

attitudes towards Jews and 56% stated they would not accept a Jew in their family, while “only” a third (32%) would not like to have Jewish neighbors. Compared to the previous research, the anti-Semitism was on rise. With the right-wing leading politicians in Poland, the scaring atmosphere and the apparent rise of anti- Semitism, the fears another museum would be (ab)used for the sake of revisionism and historical negationism and relativisation of historical data, are not without reasons. In terms of the education about the Holocaust, what might be the lessons thought?

New “imported” Swedish anti-Semitism

Another Holocaust museum to be, is intended to be built in Malmo, Sweden in 2020, which will be dedicated to the Righteous among nations, the Swedish architect and diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (1912- disappeared 1945), who managed to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi persecution during the WW2. The Swedish Minister of Social Affairs and Sports, Annika Strandhall feels that the idea is more important than ever. This statement should also be regarded in the realistic scenario on the spot: in Malmo (appr. 350,000 inhabitants) the 1st and the 2nd generation of the Middle East immigrants make up one third of the population with dozens of anti-Semitic incidents recorded annually and the tiny minority of the Jewish population of only several hundreds.

In December 2017 11, following the numerous dangerous incidents the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, said: “We will not ignore the fact that many people have come here from the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is a widespread idea, almost part of the ideology. We must become even clearer, dare to talk more about it.” It may be important to talk and

11 Neuding P. The Uncomfortable Truth About Swedish Anti-Semitism. Opinion. The Newy York Times. December 14, 2017

educate, but the situation on the spot would require more direct measures to protect the Swedish citizens of Jewish descent on the territory of Sweden and provide them the freedom guaranteed by the European standards. As Neuding writes: “It is also vital for Sweden to adopt a coherent strategy to combat radical Islamism. The country has become one of Europe’s richest recruiting grounds for Islamic State fighters.” Would the Malmo Holocaust museum have the role to educate? Who will be the target-audience? Would the potential visitors feel safe and free to visit the museum?

Croatian relativisation of the Holocaust

Probably the most apparent and obvious example of relativisation, historical negationism and revisionism is the example of the Croatian political leaders, notably the President – Ms Grabar Kitarovic, whose flirting with Croatian fascism symbols and the fascist Ustasha movement with the recognizable iconography and populist narrative fascinating masses, culminated with the demand for the forensic expertise regarding the number of the victims of the largest (appr. 600,000 victims 12 13) and probably one of the most cruel of the death concentration camps in Europe – Jasenovac – surnamed “The Auschwitz of the Balkans” with the special camp for children torture and execution. The annual ceremony of commemoration 14 for the victims is usually celebrated by the Serbian and Jewish community, separated from the Croatian officials, as both communities decided to boycott the Croatian political elite to protest against the

12 The Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, 1997

13 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Gutman I, editor- in-chief. New York: Macmillan, 1990

14 Croatia’s Jews to Boycott Official Holocaust Commemoration. AP / Reuters. Haaretz, April 12, 2016

government’s alleged inaction to curb the surge of neo-Nazi sentiments in the country.” Previous political engagement of Ms. Grabar Kitarovic, including the visit to Canada and Argentine, where she met the descendants of the Ustasha fascist immigrants and got photographed with the Ustasha flag from the WW2 15 and the statements regarding Jasenovac, as merely the “labor camp” are considered inacceptable.

On the OSCE Conference on anti- Semitism held in Rome earlier this year, the Croatian delegation left the room during the speech of the Chairman of the Council of the Yad Vashem Memorial Center, Rabbi Meir Lau 16.

Expectedly, no new Holocaust museums are planned in Croatia, however, the restoration of the fascist “values” from the WW2 become apparent. Both, tragedy and farce! Another lesson for future!

Lessons from survivors

Speaking of disappearing of the Holocaust survivors from the beginning of this text and their educational role, makes me instantly think of the late Marceline Loridan-Ivens (1928-2018), the well- known French Jewish filmmaker and writer, who died this September in Paris and two of her recent books, written based on her own experience, a long-term anguish of surviving death camps “But You Did Not Come Back,” (Et tu n’es pas

15 Croatian president poses with pro-Nazi regime symbol. AFP. The Times of Israel, November 27, 2016

16 Meir Lau, who was Israel’s chief rabbi and is a survivor from the Nazi death camp of Buchenwald, focused his attention on the questions, “Where were you when the crimes were committed, and where are you when hatred is being awaken once again?” (B92 / Vecernje novosti / index.hr), January 30, 2018 (www.b92.net)

revenu 17) a letter to her father who never came back from Auschwitz, from the perspective of a survivor, who witnessed both the cruelty and the absolute negation of the humanity and life in the camp and also the anti-Semitism her father encountered before the WW2, as the Polish Jew who emigrated to France. “I lived because you wanted me to live.” Long- term effects of the traumatic experience are sincerely presented. She did not spare anyone. Her pessimism about the future in Europe is understandable, taking into account the growing anti-Semitism. Like Primo Levi, she never managed to completely rebuild her life, which became even more and detailed elaborated in the other book “Love afterwards.” (L’amour après 18).

So far, the similar clichés are described regarding the lack of the proper education, the abuse of the historical events and museums for political reasons, for history reshaping, relativisation of facts and institutionalism of anti-Semitism. Falsifying the numbers of victims, revising the historical facts, unfortunately seems to be the tendency in European societies together with the anti-Semitism in its very old and new, authentic and imported forms. It is easy to manipulate with the inadequately educated instagram-based masses, whose technical abilities to use and play with electronic gadgets seems to be inversely proportional to the knowledge of history and respect towards the past.

It is our duty to fight against anti- Semitism, against fascism, extremism of all kind, revisionism, and historical negation and we must never forget. This summer in Jeursalem, at Yad Vashem, among numerous strong and extremely important documents regarding the Shoah, I read a message of a victim of the Shoah who was aware that he and his family

17 Loridan-Ivens M. Et tu n’es pas revenu, Grasset, Paris, 2015

18 Loridan-Ivens M. L’amour après, Grasset, Paris, 2018

would perish soon. In his letter, on a tiny piece of paper he only asked not to be forgotten that he was once alive. I saw a photograph of a tortured and humiliated rabbi in front of the dead bodies of the massacred Jews and the laughing faces of the German Nazi soldiers, while he was trying to say Kadish and I saw a doll with the partly destroyed head that belonged to a girl who perished somewhere in death camps… I wrote this text in order to awake and alarm all of those who allowed themselves to forget about those people, even for a minute.

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