Austrian Initiative Promoting Holocaust Education in Awake of WWII Victory Anniversary

May 9, 2019

EJA had received the following letter from the Federal Chancellery of Austria:

Dear Sir/Madame,

I hope this message finds you well. 

The 8th of May 1945 marked the end of the Second World War in Europe and the end of the Nazi reign of terror in Austria. While looking back at the darkest chapter in Austria‘s history, the 8th of May also represents a day of liberation and joy.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache spoke at today’s commemorative event, emphasizing that remembrance must be followed by concrete action. Austria has a special responsibility in the fight against antisemitism and in safeguarding Jewish life in Europe, Israel and in the rest of the world. The first ever agreement of the EU countries to decisively fight antisemitism which Austria managed to reach during its Presidency, was an important step into the right direction.

“My generation is probably the last one that is able to speak to holocaust survivors. In this context, I fully support the proposal to give all secondary students in Austria the possibility to visit the Mauthausen memorial at least once in their lifetime,” so the Chancellor.

Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache also underlined Austria’s commitment to remembrance on such a significant day: “The Shoah was the most horrible and vicious manifestation of the Nazi terror regime. I bow my head to all those who became victims to this gruesome and cruel time in our history.”

Austria has been cooperating actively with the memorial Yad Vashem over the past decades. Since the year 2000, around 800 Austrian teachers participated in seminars/courses at the memorial to improve the curricula of Austrianstudents, and last year, as Austrian Federal Government, we contributed 1 Million Euros to the construction of the Shoah Heritage Campus. 

To further strengthen this relationship, today Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has signed on behalf of the Austrian Federal Government an archival agreement with Yad Vashem. The agreement will give historians from Austria and Israel the opportunity to access their respective archives and conduct their research. We are firmly committed to make sure that no individual story will ever be forgotten.

Feel free to come back to me at any time in case of further inquiries or comments.

Kind Regards,
Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal

Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria

Spokesperson of the Federal Government

Ambassador

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal

EJA Chairman, Rabbi Menachem Margolin had reply to the letter:
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New Cooperation with the Jewish Community of the Balkan

The European Jewish Association is very happy and proud to welcome another organisation to our growing roster of partners. We have just concluded and signed a Cooperation and Partnership Agreement with the Balkan Jewish Communities.
We eagerly look forward to many positive exchanges and fruitful cooperation with our new partners from the Balkan Jewish community. Together, we hope to achieve a lot of beautiful and important things, all the while jointly working towards the betterment and wellbeing of both Balkan and European Jewry.

Words by Rabbi Benyomin Jacobs on Dutch TV

I stopped worrying about current anti-Semitism. Just fiveminutes I forgot about the anti-Israel propaganda which I see and hear daily around me. I was standing in a serene silence for those five minutes in front of the Children's Monument, het Kindermonument, in former Dutch concentration camp Vught.
“One thousand two hundred and sixty-nine children were put on deportation trains with the Kindertransport on June 6 and 7 in 1943.  A few days later they arrived in extermination camp Sobibor. Upon arrival they were brutely removed from the cattle wagons, driven to the gas chambers via the Himmelstrasse, the Street to the Heaven, as the Nazi scum jokingly called this street. Were they aware of the atrocities which the Nazi’s had planned for them? When did they realize that from the showers heads no water would come out but a deadly killing gas would emerge? How long did they suffer before they souls were forced to leave their young bodies? Didthe SS men, who watched through a few skylights, enjoy the sadistic spectacle?
The names of all those children are engraved on the Children's Monument in National Monument Kamp Vught. Only a very few photographs of a few children still exist. Most children are reduced by the industrial killing machine to a just name,without a face.
Why are we commemorating yearly the Children-Deportation, the Kindertransport? In order to prevent? Is this monument akind of educational project?
Yes, the Kindertransport is commemorated every year, but not to teach, not to warn, not even to prevent!
When I unveiled the monument in 1999, people came forward from the audience after the ceremony. They searched through the names, found and, full of tenderness, love and with tears in their eyes, I saw them putting their hands on the name of their sister, their brother, their child or their grandchild. But the names of most of the children stayed untouched, because thebrothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, fathers and mothers of those children had also been murdered.
One thousand, two hundred and sixty-nine names. Lonely names, letters without faces, without family, as if they never existed. Through the chimneys of the Sobibor crematoria they disappeared into an invisible darkness. Anonymous, completely unknown, no one to think of them anymore. Just letters, a very few damaged photographs, as if they never existed.
Let us close our eyes and think in absolute silence of thechildren of the Kindertransport, who stayed on this earth for such a short while, were so cruelly snatched, and of whom nothing, absolutely nothing, has remained.
No grave, no ashes, just a name. Names without meaning, because no one today is able to remember whose life and suffering is behind their names.”
Credit: Jan van de Ven
Credit: Jan van de Ven

83 years after Kristallnacht, Jewish leader warns: Europe can become ‘Judenfrei’ in 10 years

"There are more Jews in Europe who think that there will be no more Jewish community here in a decade than those who think that there is still hope," declared Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.
"I am not saying that in ten years you will not be able to see Jewish people in Europe but I am very worried about the possibility to have Jewish presence in ten years from now," he added as he addressed 160 ministers, parliamentarians and diplomats from across Europe who gathered for two days in Krakow, Poland, to discuss ways to increase Holocaust education and remembrance, fight against antisemitism and develop tools to combat hate speech and incitement in the age of social networks.
The gathering included also a tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps where a candle lighting ceremony and wreath laying were held in the presence of Rabbi Meir Lau, former chief Rabbi of Israel and President of the Council of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Among the speakers at the conference were Moroccan Minister of Culture and Youth Mohamed

Mehdi Bensaid, Roberta Metsola, European Parliament Vice-President, Hungarian Minister of Science and Education Zoltan Maruzsa, Minister of Education of Rhineland-Palatinate Stefanie Hubig, British Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi, as well as the Speakers of the Parliaments of Slovenia and Montenegro.
The conference took place on the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of Broken Glass, when on 9 November 1938 the Nazis started the anti-Jewish pogroms by  killing Jews, burning 1400 synagogues and destroying shops owned by Jews across Germany and Austria.
“Europe is fighting anti-Semitism, but it is not winning yet. If this upward trend continues, more and more Jews will seek sanctuary in Israel rather than stay in a continent that cannot learn the lessons and cataclysmic mistakes of its past. We are not yet in the state of Judenfrei but, unfortunately we are approaching it,’’  Rabbi Margolin emphasized.
He noted that Jews who seek to eat according to the customs of their religion cannot do so in certain countries because of laws banning kosher slaughter. And in some cities on the continent Jews cannot walk safely in their traditional clothes.
"Education, he said, is the most effective vaccine in combatting the world’s oldest and most virulent virus."
Addressing the symposium in a video from Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett said: "In the Middle Ages Jews were persecuted because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries Jews were reviled because of their race, and today Jews are attacked because of their Nation State, Israel."
"It is worrying that there needs to be a conference about Anti-Semitism in Auschwitz so soon after the Holocaust," the Israeli premier said, adding that "so long as Israel remains strong, Jewish people around the world will be strong."
British Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi stated that: “The Holocaust was a failure for humanity and justice. The worst event in history. Nothing can erase the pain. I can feel the pain because my whole family has run away from Saddam Hussein’s rule. As Kurds, we had to escape. We fled when I was 7 years old from Iraq to the UK."

The symposium in Krakow was followed by a visit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps where a candle light ceremony and wreath laying took place.

He added: "I understand the important role of UK teachers in Holocaust education. Learning about history is something we sanctify in the UK. Due to the corona, virtual visits to Auschwitz increased. We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and racism. Anti-hate education is our top priority in the UK. I urge universities to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism," he said in a reference to antisemitism  on campuses.
German Minister of Education of the Rhineland-Palatinate State, Stefanie Hubig  said: “I work hard to preserve the memory of the Holocaust in schools. We work to bring teachers to visit memorial sites and promote Jewish education in schools. This is all important because, unfortunately, there are still reasons why we must continue to remember.”
In a message from Rabat, Moroccan Minister of Culture and Youth, Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid, stressed that this conference is taking place at a time when more and more radical ideologies promoting anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are flourishing. "As long as the danger of radicalism hovers over the world, we all have a duty to remind and teach our younger generation in Morocco and around the world about the dark chapter of the Holocaust in human history."
Kálmán Szalai, secretary of the European Action and Protection League (APL) identified education as an important means of reducing anti-Semitic prejudice and emphasized that "the knowledge passed on to new generations can fundamentally influence the choice of values in adulthood".
A recent survey by the APL showed the persistence of anti-Jewish prejudices in the population of several countries in Europe.

83 years after Kristallnacht, Jewish leader warns: Europe can become ‘Judenfrei’ in 10 years

UNESCO-listed Flemish festival comes under fire for anti-Semitic floats

A famous Belgian carnival has run into trouble with the authorities because of the way it is said to portray Jewish people.
The annual carnival in the Belgian town of Aalst is a 600-year-old ritual, drawing up to 100,000 spectators each year. The event is described by the local authorities as a symbol of the town’s identity in the region.
One of the floats in the parade, however, entitled “Shabbat Year,” features two giant puppets, depicting Orthodox Jews complete with traditional side-curls, wearing pink suits, and standing amidst bags of money among rats, which the mayor of the Flemish described as “humoristic.”
The portrayal has caused an outcry among Jewish groups who have branded the float as “racist and anti-Semitic”, accusations that have led to the launch of a protest petition which has been signed by over 15,000 people.
In a new development, UNESCO, the Paris-based United Nations body for education and culture, is now considering whether to “de-list” the carnival from its prestigious Convention on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
“UNESCO had to be vigilant and uncompromising” in ensuring that the regulations of its Convention are fully respected, a source for UNESCO said while adding that a decision will be made on the matter later this year.
Earlier in March, the Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO, Ernesto Ottone, was highly critical of the floats, saying, “The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and the freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred.”
Ottone spoke of the float’s “indecent caricatures” which, he said, are contrary to the “values of respect and dignity embodied by UNESCO”.
The European Commission has also weighed in on the controversy with a spokesman commenting that “it should be obvious to all that portraying such representations in the streets of Europe is absolutely unthinkable…74 years after the Holocaust.”
The three-day folk carnival, arguably the most famous of its kind in Belgium and a favourite of young and old alike, has been on the UNESCO list since 2010.
The article was published on New Europe

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