Every year the world observes Holocaust Remembrance Day. For those who read this, it is obvious what this day commemorates and why it is necessary. The Nazi attempt to exterminate an entire people using industrial methods for mass murder stands as the embodiment of evil and as a warning to future generations. Among the host of ceremonies and events this year, I mention a few in Brussels and elsewhere that I found notable – some of them with links to our own IJC members.
An exploration of the causes is outlined in a US Holocaust Museum (USHM) exhibition in the European Parliament’s Parliamentarium on Nazi propaganda techniques from the 1920s to 1945 entitled “State of Deception”. It demonstrates the clear Nazi method of repeatedly lying, knowing that repetition makes the human mind believe it is true. Nazi propaganda was truly a weapon of mass deception. IJC member Bill Echikson helped to stage this exhibition in Brussels. And due to this connection, the IJC held a fundraising dinner on January 29th with USHM curator Steven Luckert as speaker. His talk explained how Nazi propaganda sought to de-humanize Jews to convince the population that Jews deserved exclusion and no mercy.
Although antisemitism was a Nazi leitmotiv from the beginning, it apparently was not a convincing one for most Germans. As Germany prepared for war and war began, the Nazi regime put increasing efforts into trying to incite more antisemitic feelings by demonizing the Jews and blaming them for all of Germany’s problems - domestic and foreign. They also groomed their population and the German soldiers sent to the East to see the lethal treatment of Jews as fair retribution by portraying mass murder incidents in the USSR as the work of the Jews. The “State of Deception” exhibition is powerful and very timely. It runs to May 13th. Details can be found at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/visiting/en/brussels/state-of-deception .
Another event - a film called “Unsichtbaren” or “The Invisibles” is about Jews – all teens - who went underground in Berlin during the war and survived, This was shown at the BOZAR to a special audience of Jewish community leaders and German high school students from the Brussels Deutsche Schule, The film showed the balancing act that was life for survivors and their day–to-day trepidations, mixing actors showing their lives in the 1940s and interviews with them today. One of the Berliners portrayed in the film, Hanni Lévy, was present at the showing. Ninety-three years old and looking much younger than her age, Ms. Lévy answered questions from the students and made us all feel that the film and the topic had taken on a personal dimension.
Diana Kanter's ancestors commemorated in Göttingen.
Also of note was the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day speech to the German Bundestag by the 93 year old Auschwitz survivor Anita Lasker-Wellfisch. Born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland), she survived Auschwitz because she could play the cello. The camp orchestra needed a cellist the day she arrived at the camp. She played each day for the pleasure of the SS for hellish occasions beyond normal comprehension. After the War, she moved to England and helped to found the English Chamber Orchestra. And now she was given the honor of addressing the German parliament. You can find a video of her speech (in German) at http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/camps/death-camps/birkenau/anita-lasker-wallfisch/ . Even if you don’t speak German, please take a look at Ms Lasker-Wellfisch’s regal demeanor and tone speaking before the Parliament of the country that wanted to annihilate her.
Lastly, honors were given to the memory of the close relatives lost in Germany of one of our IJC members, Diana Kanter. Her mother’s family hails from Göttingen. On February 7 Stolpersteine (literally: stumbling blocks) were placed in the pavement in front of the family home in remembrance of her grandparents and others who were seized and sent to the death camps, or forced to flee.
What I list above is not just a historical recitation. Current events underscore that there is a compelling need to retell what some elements in society insist has never happened - yet at the same time express the desire that it happen again.
The President of the IJC
19 February 2018