Why am I present at this commemoration? What does it matter whether or not the murder of innocent people more than 100 years ago is called or recognized as genocide? To answer that question, I self mirrored and questioned myself: How would I react if the existence of the Holocaust was denied or reduced to something small-scale? I would find this unacceptable.
I would consider that a painful and blatant insult to those who were murdered then and to the relatives of today. Recognition is important, as it somewhat relieves the pain of the gaping open traumatic wound.
But, even more importantly: no present without a past. Our youth must know the history and what happened in the past to avoid it from happening again. And could it happen again? I don’t doubt that for a second.
But how could it happen? Were the killers all by definition just evil people? I do not think so. During the Holocaust in Holland the number of people that collaborated with the Nazi’s was only a small percentage. But also, the number of people who resisted and dared to fight evil was miniscule. As the famous historian Prof. Jacques Presser put it in his masterly work Ondergang: “5% were very good and hid Jews, 5% were very bad and sold Jews for Fl.7.50 and 90% turned their head”. The vast majority witnessed and saw it happen, chose the easiest way, even if that road led to the most degrading acts. Whether we talk about the Holocaust, other massacres in our modern history, or about the genocide on Arameans: it has everything to do with the pinnacle of intolerance and looking away.
Could the genocide of then happen again today? Do we learn from history? In my opinion, the only historical law that we can establish with certainty is that people never learn from the past.
Freedom of religion? Yes! Freedom of speech? Yes!
But if freedom of religion is unlimited and calls for the elimination of fellow human beings who think differently or who are different, then that religion or ideology must be strictly banned. And if freedom of expression implies that fellow human beings may be insulted and humiliated to the bone, then we as a society may not accept that, whether it takes place in the Netherlands or anywhere in the world. Extremist ideas are perilous, especially in a climate that is increasingly polarizing globally. And therefore, we as a society must refuse to bury our heads in the sand, have an eye for reality, learn from what happened in 1915. We must point out and teach our youth the dangers of polarization, racial hatred, intolerance, megalomania and genocide.
But is that the purpose of our meeting tonight? Is this meeting an educational project? Are we gathered here primarily to take a lesson from the past and translate it into the present? No!
This meeting started with a minute of silence. Remembering the victims. Men, women and children who were brutally murdered because others believed they should not exist. And I, as a Jew, I’am here to share with you that one minute of silence. I stand next to you, literally and figuratively. I am with you in solidarity!
Speech Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi, June 15th 2021, Enschede NL