news archives


If you have a topic you would like to be featured on the Special edition news page please contact us at .

Special News issue February 2005: Commemorating Auschwitz

Article index Commemorating Auschwitz

Across Europe, nations have held ceremonies to mark the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp 60 years ago. People lit candles, observed silences and recalled the horrors. Many speakers also warned against new manifestations of anti-Semitism.

  • POLAND: World leaders and Holocaust survivors joined the main ceremony at the snow-covered Auschwitz site. The ceremony began with a train whistle on the railway track that brought more than a million people to their deaths.

  • BELGIUM: Members of the European Parliament in Brussels stood for a minute's silence to mark the anniversary. They then agreed that 27 January should become a Holocaust memorial day throughout the European Union.

  • GERMANY: Politicians at the Reichstag in Berlin paid tribute to the Holocaust victims. Parliament president Wolfgang Thierse warned that Germans must be vigilant against xenophobia and anti-Semitism. A ceremony was also held at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial near Berlin, and tributes were paid at the capital's Gruenewald train station in memory of the Jews and other minorities deported from there to Nazi camps. German folk singer Wolf Biermann, whose father died at Auschwitz, performed a piece based on works by Polish poet Itzak Katzenelson, who was also killed at the camp.

  • GREECE: Thessaloniki was once known as the "Pearl of Israel" before the Nazis. A memorial ceremony was held at the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki to remember the victims, including more than 65,000 Greek Jews. Visiting Israeli Transport Minister Meir Shetreet said: "In the darkness of Nazism, there were shining examples in Thessaloniki where many risked their lives to save their fellow citizens". German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was due to attend a ceremony later.

  • HUNGARY: A commemoration was held at the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said: "The Holocaust proves that the struggle against evil is an eternal task for humanity. "In this struggle, good must prevail." Those attending placed stones at the memorial wall for Hungarian victims, which lists some 80,000 names.

  • ITALY: Italy's former royal family acknowledged on Thursday its ancestors part in the persecution of Italian Jews during World War II. In a letter to the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Victor Emmanuel said his grandfather King Victor Emmanuel III had "political and moral responsibilities" in the passage of laws responsible. "Nothing can justify such a violation of human rights and of the very idea of civilisation," he said. On Wednesday, a plaque to honour the homosexual victims of the Nazis in Italy was unveiled at the ruins of the Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste, where up to 5,000 people are thought to have been killed.

  • SPAIN: Spain's parliament lit candles to commemorate victims of Nazi camps, which included a number of Spanish citizens. Candles were also lit in the International Hall of Congress in honour of Holocaust survivors and Spanish diplomats who helped Jews flee Nazi Germany.

  • RUSSIA: Holocaust survivors, Jewish leaders and Red Army veterans gathered at the Central House of Writers in Moscow to mark the anniversary with a minute's silence and a song dedicated to the victims of Auschwitz and Birkenau. President Vladimir Putin, at a forum in the Polish city of Krakow, said: "We have to learn from the cruel mistakes of the past, understand what caused them and do everything to make sure that they are not repeated." Jewish groups have voiced concern that some Russian politicians want to investigate the possibility of banning Jewish organisations.

  • UK: The Queen and Prince Philip marked the anniversary with a reception at St James' Palace in London, followed by a ceremony at Westminster Hall. The events included more than 600 guests, including 300 survivors plus British veterans who helped liberate the concentration camps. Among the UK's representatives at Auschwitz were Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Prince Edward, and three British survivors.
    ©BBC News

    2/3/2005- About 5,000 participants, including the leaders of 44 states, delegations from many organizations and over 1,000 former prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, commemorated the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation by the Soviet Army Jan. 27. The commemoration took place at the monument to the camp victims, situated near a railroad loading platform on which the Nazis selected those prisoners judged unable to work, sending them straight to the gas chambers. The ceremony opened with the sound of an approaching train. Former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Wladyslaw Bartoszewski-prisoner No. 4427, and French Jew Simone Veil-prisoner No. 78651, spoke on behalf of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners. The Chair of the Central Council of the German Sinti and Roma, Romani Rose, spoke on behalf of the Romany community. Bartoszewski pointed out that no country had reacted to news coming from Poland about the tragedy of Auschwitz, whereas the proper response to those reports might have saved the lives of more than half of the victims. Veil said that the wish shared by the prisoners that the tragedy never repeat itself has not been fulfilled. "Since that time, there have been many other cases of genocide," she said, appealing for a united struggle against hatred, anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance. Rose stressed that Auschwitz was not only a site of remembrance but at the same time a warning in the face of today's crimes against humankind. "We must speak, remember and cry out: here was hell on Earth! Here humiliation, fear, pain, suffering and death were the order of the day," called Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. He voiced a universal appeal that the atrocities symbolized by Auschwitz-Birkenau would never be repeated in human history. The inaction of allied powers during WWII to the tragedy of Auschwitz was stressed by Israeli President Moshe Katzav. "The world knew about the holocaust and kept silent," he said, at the same time thanking the armies of the allies, participants in the resistance movement in occupied Europe and Jewish fighters who struggled with the Nazis. Katzav also expressed his respect for "the exceptional sons of the Polish nation and other Righteous Among the Nations who felt the pain of the persecuted and gave them shelter while exposing their own lives to danger."

    "Today we pay homage to the memory of all those cruelly and in cold blood exterminated by the Nazi barbarians not only here, at Auschwitz," said Russian President Vladimir Putin. He added that the ceremony opened celebrations of the 60th anniversary of victory over Nazism, which will culminate in May in Moscow. Other foreign guests included French President Jacques Chirac, German president Horst Koehler, President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, and U.S. Vice president Dick Cheney. Pope John Paul II addressed the ceremony participants in a special message read by Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk. "The truth about Auschwitz is a call to the contemporary generation for responsibility for the shape of our history," wrote the pope. "You must not yield to ideologies that justify the possibility of trampling the dignity of a person of a different race, skin color, language or religion. I address this appeal to everyone, especially those who, in the name of religion, resort to violence and terror," read the message. The establishment of the International Center of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust was called by Bartoszewski a "testament" of the prisoners. The founding act of the center, which will open at the turn of 2006/07, was signed by former prisoners of the camp. Bartoszewski and Veil were the first signatories. In the document, former prisoners ask historians, scientists and teachers to pass on the memory of victims of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, to deepen comprehension of the mechanisms of hatred and contempt and to notice new threats and prevent them by promoting dialogue and cooperation. The center will be located in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, near the former camp area. The center will cooperate closely with the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, the Washington Holocaust Memorial, leading universities around the world and international institutions and organizations. The center's tasks will include supporting scientific and academic research; organizing study visits, conferences, seminars and publications; training journalists, educators and nongovernmental organization activists.

    On the same day, the Let My People Live Forum was held in Cracow. "Do not forget about one of the greatest crimes in the history of humankind committed in the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, do not let this kind of wrong be repeated again," appealed forum participants, including former prisoners, former soldiers of the Soviet Army who liberated the camp, politicians, young people, scholars, intellectuals and artists. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the memory of the victims of the Holocaust Jan. 27. In the text of the resolution, the Nazi German state was specified as the founder of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Eurodeputies called for a fight against all manifestations of intolerance, racial hatred and acts of violence against racial minorities. They also proposed that Jan. 27 be named All-European Holocaust Remembrance Day. The resolution also appeals to the Council of the European Union to establish a European ban on incitements to religious and racial hatred and to dedicate more time in education programs to the Holocaust. None of the deputies opposed the motion, 617 Eurodeputies voted in favor of the resolution and 10 deputies abstained. Polish Eurodeputies expressed satisfaction that the resolution unambiguously assigned responsibility for the crimes committed in Auschwitz-Birkenau to Nazi Germany. Previously, only references to "Nazi" crimes featured in preliminary editions of the text of the resolution, which was protested unanimously by Polish deputies of all party affiliations. Another amendment, demanded by the Polish Eurodeputies since the beginning of work on the resolution, concerned the account of the camp victims. The final version of the resolution refers to about "1.5 million Jews, romanies, Poles, Russians and representatives of other nations, as well as homosexuals." Earlier, homosexuals had been listed third, after Jews and Romanies, on the list of Auschwitz-Birkenau victims, which was considered improper not only by Polish deputies.

    The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau was also commemorated by the U.S. Senate, which passed a resolution Jan. 27, sponsored by, among others, a senator of Polish descent, Barbara Mikulski from Maryland. "Perhaps more than any other word, 'Auschwitz' is a synonym of evil. The atrocities committed at the camp are impossible to grasp and describe," she said in her statement on the occasion. Mikulski stressed that many Poles also perished in the camp-a fact generally unknown to many within the U.S.- and she also mentioned the persecution of Poles during the German occupation. Mikulski then spoke of the Poles who helped save the Jews from extermination: Jan Karski, the Home Army (AK) courier who carried reports to the West about the Holocaust in vain, Irena Sendler, who saved more than 2,000 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, and Irena Adamowicz, who facilitated communication between the AK and Jewish underground fighters. The anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi extermination camp was the subject of a United Nations General assembly special session Jan. 24. Its participants honored the memory of the victims with one minute of silence. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the world had not drawn the right conclusions from the Holocaust and that the evil that had led to the death of 6 million Jews continued to pose a threat. According to Annan, even after the experience of the Holocaust, the world had failed to prevent genocide, for example in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and currently-in Sudan. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Eurodeputy Bronislaw Geremek, the chair of the Polish delegation, emphasized that the concentration camps, although located on the territory of Poland, were not Polish camps. He stressed that describing them as "Polish camps" by some historians and media was misleading and profoundly hurtful to Poles. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel appealed on behalf of the prisoners who survived that the crime committed at Auschwitz not fall into oblivion. He said that it was necessary to preserve living memory of the tragedy of concentration camps, in order for humanity to prevent similar crimes.
    ©The Warsaw Voice

    For Poles, learning to share Auschwitz with the Jews and with the world remains difficult.
    By Wojciech Kosc, TOL correspondent.

    2/2/2005- It was a blood-freezing moment. When the screech of brakes pierced the frosty air, eyes instinctively turned toward the gates. But the sound of a train arriving was just a recording. There was no train traveling along the candlelit rail tracks that led, on 27 January, into Birkenau. The impression, though, was strong enough for Barbara Pozimska, a former prisoner of the concentration camp. "I felt a shiver down my spine," she said. That was how she, and others, arrived in this place: crammed in cattle cars, an experience itself so tortuous that they believed, hoped, their ordeal could not get any worse. But by 27 January 1944, when the first Soviet troops cut through the barbed wire and entered this most notorious of German death camps, 1.1 million people--960,000 Jews among them--had been killed by gas, bullets, starvation, or the barbaric medical experiments of Josef Mengele. Among the families that died here was Merka Szewach's. Szewach, 76, did not wait to share her experiences with reporters. Toward the end of an official speech by Israeli President Moshe Katzav, she unexpectedly walked to the pulpit. "Let me add a few words in Polish," Szewach said, after Katzav finished his speech in Hebrew. "This is where my whole family was burnt. They took my name and gave me a number instead. I was Merka Szewach no longer. I was a number," Szewach's voice eventually rose to a cry. "Why did they burn my nation?" That powerful and dramatic intervention by one of Auschwitz's 7,000 survivors only strengthened the underlying purpose of the anniversary, as expressed by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former prisoner and Poland's foreign minister at one point in the 1990s. "The last survivors who are here today will not live to pay tribute to the victims in the decades to come," he said. "They have the right, though, to believe that their suffering had meaning and led to a better future for all the peoples of Europe. "We would like to believe that remembering the fate of the prisoners and victims of this place--a fate hard even to imagine--will bind future generations to respect the dignity of every person and to make them stand up against hate and contempt, especially xenophobia and anti-Semitism," Bartoszewski said. "We have come here from all continents, believers and nonbelievers," said Simone Weil, another survivor and a former French minister. "We all live on the same planet, belong to the human community. We should be watchful and defend ourselves not only from the forces of nature but also, or above all else, from human folly."

    Disentangling Auschwitz
    Such a universal message is, in theory, the only one that should emerge from Auschwitz, whether delivered at a ceremony or by the guides who lead 600,000 visitors a year through the museum and its disturbing history lessons. But Auschwitz has escaped politics and controversy neither under the communists nor after 1989. And the camp's location in Poland has ensured that it is often Poland that is at the heart of the controversy. Poland's communists are in part responsible for that. The official communist line was to blur, if not deny, the fact that the primary purpose of Auschwitz, and other death camps that Germans established in occupied Poland, was to exterminate Jews. Auschwitz became a "Monument to the Martyrdom and Struggle of the Polish Nation and Other Nations," as its official name pronounced. "Among the prisoners of various nationalities the largest group were Poles and Polish citizens of Jewish origin, then citizens of the U.S.S.R., Yugoslavs, and the French," ran the official brochure. The result was that "the image of the suffering Pole … grew so deeply into the Polish mentality that it became an archetype, one of the most substantive elements of the Polish mentality," historian Pawel Zaremba argued in 2001. "At the same time, [the authorities] were erasing the memory of Jewish martyrdom." Zaremba quoted an entry that Polish historian Witold Kula made in his diary in 1970: "Faced by the martyrdom of the Jews, the Polish propaganda machine has set itself a task of paramount importance: to prove that we, too, were slaughtered­and in equal proportions as the Jews. The two communities compete in the number of their compatriots killed. We envied the Jews their money, their qualifications, their positions, their international relationships; now we envy them their crematories." It was only in 1987 that a nationwide discussion on Poles' attitude toward Jews and the Holocaust began to take place. It was prompted when the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny published an essay by Jan Blonski in which he asserted what many Poles had sought to erase from their memory--that Poles had been guilty of inaction. "We do not want to have anything to do with this atrocity," Blonski wrote. "But we feel that it stains us somehow." After 1989, officials quickly dispelled the lie in which the old regime sought to frame the Auschwitz tragedy. The Auschwitz museum now not only has proper historical information but also has made several attempts to change its character. Above all, it is seeking to give back the dead their identity. And, within Polish society itself, the discussion initiated by Blonski has continued, peaking in 2000 when Polish historian Jan T. Gross published a book in which he asserted that Poles had played an active part in killing their Jewish neighbors in the small town of Jedwabne in 1941. But controversies over Auschwitz have dotted the past 15 years. The first, which began in the late 1980s, was resolved in 1993 when Pope John Paul II, himself a Pole, ordered nuns to vacate a Carmelite monastery that lay within the 500-meter protection zone that surrounds the camp. No buildings of a religious or commercial character are supposed to lie within the zone. Then, in 1998, another controversy with religious overtones erupted. Kazimierz Switon, a former member of the anti-communist opposition, and his supporters placed more than 300 crosses near the camp. The crosses were removed. As a member of parliament in 1995, Switon had published a "list of [Polish] politicians of Jewish origins."

    Living with Auschwitz
    At Auschwitz, Poland is not just having to adjust its understanding of the wartime sufferings of the Poles and Jews. It also has, somehow, to live with the reality that a German death camp for Jews in a Polish town is a site of huge international significance. For the town itself, it is a struggle to maintain an ordinary life while honoring the grim heritage imposed upon it by the Nazis. The town's daily routines and initiatives often come across as a lack of respect for the dead. That was the case when a discotheque was opened outside the protection zone but in a building that the SS used to store suitcases and the hair of those who had been sent to the gas chambers. That particular conflict was solved on legal grounds (the disco had to move), but it still put Poland back in the world's headlines, reminding everyone involved--the Polish government, the local authorities of Oswiecim (the Polish name for the town of Auschwitz), and the town's residents--that Auschwitz is not entirely an internal matter for Poland. For many Polish politicians, the challenge is to remind the world that Auschwitz and much of the Holocaust may have taken place on Polish soil, but that the terror was the work of the Nazis. In the days before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, that tension was evident when the European Parliament discussed a special resolution that referred to Auschwitz as a "death camp in Poland." Polish nerves jangled. (Some Polish MEPs were also upset that the resolution said Auschwitz was established by "the Nazis" without explicit reference to Germans. In the end, the resolution talked about "the liberation of the death camp created by Nazi Germany.") For weeks, the Polish media reported on this and other uses of the phrase "death camp in Poland" in the Western media, fearing that the international press was trying to suggest that it was Poles who built--or even carried out the genocide--in concentration camps. That possibility sufficiently inflamed the influential daily Rzeczpospolita for it to state that is not enough to explain and call for corrections if the foreign press--like the British Guardian, which wrote about "Polish gas chambers"--miss elementary facts and harm Poland's image in the world. It suggested the establishment of a foundation that would file lawsuits against authors of such descriptions. Since 26 January, more than 4,600 people have supported the idea by putting their names on the special website set up by Rzeczpospolita. But while the Polish media struggle to ensure foreigners are accurate in their facts, ordinary Poles themselves display a lack of in-depth knowledge about Auschwitz. In a poll conducted in the first week of January, the pollsters OBOP sought to gauge what Auschwitz means to Poles and whether they know the proportions of Jewish and Polish victims of the camp. Only 8 percent said Auschwitz was for them an extermination site for Jews. Most (66 percent) said Auschwitz was the site of martyrdom of numerous nations; 11 percent said it was a site of Polish martyrdom. All together 51 percent said the majority of the victims were Jews, while 18 percent claimed most of those who died were Poles. Another 21 percent believed Jews and Poles died in roughly equal numbers.

    The spirit of Auschwitz
    But the beliefs of ordinary Poles echo those of many of the speakers at the anniversary in one way: more than half those polled said the world's governments are doing nothing, or little, to prevent genocide from happening again. Likewise, Simone Weil said the lesson of Auschwitz has not yet been understood. "The dream that we all had--that [Auschwitz] happens never again--has not come true. We have seen more cases of genocide." Some of the Poles who are convinced too little is being done to prevent genocide must have been among those who protested against Vladimir Putin's visit to the camp. "We think that the perpetrator of genocide in Chechnya should not pay tribute to the victims of Nazism" ran a statement by a small organization called Committee Free Caucasus. They did, however, refrain from staging anything controversial in, or near, the former camp. That was perhaps the most striking political aspect of the anniversary­along with Putin's own speech. In the only speech to refer to current affairs, Putin likened terrorism to fascism. "Today we must not just remember the past, but recognize all the threats to the modern world, one of which is terrorism. It is no less insidious or dangerous than fascism, and just as ruthless." Dawid Warszawski, a Jewish commentator living in Poland, expected--and wanted--to hear a political note in the speeches. But not just from Putin­and no doubt not the note Putin struck. Warszawski believes that the slogan long invoked alongside Auschwitz--"never again"­has become no more than an empty phrase. Auschwitz, Warszawski wrote, is the ultimate symbol of where hatred can lead if not contained in its early stages. "The spirit of Auschwitz is present in all places where somebody is denied the right to live," Warszawski wrote on 25 January, two days before the ceremony. "That is why I would like the Polish president to find words in his speech to condemn the violence homosexuals are facing in Poland today; the Russian president, to bring himself to say words of regret for crimes in Chechnya, which are resulting in racism across Russia; and the president of Israel to express solidarity with Arabs who experience discrimination in his country and Europe." "But those words will not come from those mouths in Auschwitz," he concluded bitterly. "And if that is the case, do any other words make sense in this place?"
    ©Transitions Online

    The UN General Assembly on 24 January will hold a special session commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz by Soviet Red Army troops. UN officials say the event is an occasion for reflection on the UN's founding principles and a reminder of the need to revive respect for human rights. Israeli's UN ambassador says the session is a welcome gesture after decades of difficult relations between Israel and the General Assembly.

    20/1/2005- The United Nations was founded in the final days of World War II with a promise in its charter to spare succeeding generations the "untold sorrow" unleashed by war. But the United Nations has never commemorated events most closely associated with that war's horrors -- the liberation of Nazi Germany's death camps. On 24 January, the UN General Assembly will hold a special session marking the liberation of the most notorious of the camps, Poland's Auschwitz, where an estimated 1.5 million Jews were killed. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that the event is deeply significant for the organization. "It is essential for all of us to remember, reflect on, and learn from what happened 60 years ago The evil that destroyed 6 million Jews and others in those camps is one that still threatens all of us today. It is not something we can consign to the distant past and forget about it. Every generation must be on its guard to make sure that such things never happen again," Anna said. Underscoring the importance attached to the session, the foreign ministers of Israel, Germany, Poland, and France will be attending. The session was requested by the United States, the European Union, Russia, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. More than 150 of the UN's 191 members have expressed their support. The General Assembly's president, Jean Ping of Gabon, told reporters yesterday the session should resonate especially well in Africa. The continent has experienced the Rwandan genocide, as well as charges of rampant rights abuses currently alleged against officials in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "It's our duty to remember and say loudly 'never again.' I hope also it will give us the opportunity to renew our commitment to the objectives and the principals of the United Nations Charter and also renew our commitment to human rights," Ping said. That commitment has been sharply questioned by human rights watchdogs in recent months. They point to a general decline in effectiveness of UN human rights bodies and the inability of the Security Council to bring an end to abuses in Sudan's western Darfur region.

    Annan has appointed a panel to investigate genocide allegations in Darfur, and its findings may become known soon. He has pressed the Security Council in the past on Darfur, but it has failed to go beyond a threat of economic sanctions. Annan acknowledged the difficulties in responding to the crisis in Darfur, which has killed at least 50,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. "Of course, we are grappling with the situation in Sudan, and the [Security] Council has considered all sorts of options and is fully seized of it and, in fact, we are still seeking for other actions the council may take," Annan said. Annan also said the most logical place to prosecute those suspected of committing atrocities in Darfur is the International Criminal Court, but U.S. opposition to the court has complicated that option. The 24 January session is expected to strike a note of sympathy for Israel, a rare occasion in the General Assembly. The assembly frequently adopts measures condemning various aspects of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. Israel's relations with the United Nations reached a low point in 1975 when the General Assembly voted to categorize Zionism as a form of racism. That resolution was struck down in 1991 with the help of a lobbying campaign by the United States. Until recently, Israel was the only UN member not to belong to a regional group, thereby blocking membership of Israelis in UN bodies. Arab nations have repeatedly blocked Israel's admission to the Asian group, where it should be situated geographically. It has been a member of the Western Europe and Others group since 2000. Israel's UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman, noted the new hopes for peace in the Mideast and said the United Nations may also be undergoing a change. "Seeing as [the session] does in a very special way touch upon Israel and the Jewish people, maybe that atmosphere has made it possible for over 138 countries, including many countries who normally may not have supported such an initiative, to come aboard, and we are very gratified that this is happening," Gillerman said.

    Roman Kent is a survivor of Auschwitz and vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee. He told RFE/RL during a visit to UN headquarters this week that the General Assembly session is an important moment for the United Nations. "After all, it was the United Nations that voted Zionism is racism and so on, and this is very detrimental to the spirit of the United Nations. So maybe they can start to undo the damage which was done in the United States by statements like this by bringing to the attention that tolerance is important, hatred is always bad," Kent said. The actual anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is 27 January. On that date, about 2,000 survivors are expected to gather with world leaders at the site in southern Poland to mark the camp's liberation by Soviet Red Army soldiers. Nazi occupiers renamed the Polish town of Oswiecim before setting up the infamous camp.

    By Felice D. Gaer
    February 2005

    "To be a Jew is to have all the reasons in the world not to have faith … but to go on … to go on carrying on the dialogue…" (Elie Wiesel, 1974)

    As a human rights activist who has spent decades struggling to get the UN to be more effective in the fight against genocide, torture, and intolerance, I have no illusions about the UN. As an advocate who has pressed hard –with minimal success­to get a mere reference to "antisemitism" into UN resolutions on intolerance and to encourage UN independent investigators to pay attention to abuses against Jews, I know it would be easy to give up on the UN. I was a representative at Durban. Persuading UN diplomats or even NGOs to stand up against the bullying of those who demonize Israel at every opportunity was all but impossible.

    On Monday, January 24, 2005, for the first time in its history, the United Nations General Assembly ("UNGA") convened a Special Session to commemorate the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Listening to the strains of Hatikvah echo throughout the UN visitor's lobby that evening, I reflected on the events of this day. Was this a "turning point" as Israeli diplomats claim? Or was it insignificant?

    In the General Assembly hall, where Israel has been so commonly vilified, leaders came to say to Israelis and Jews everywhere-- and before all the nations of the world-- that they understand the uniqueness of the Jewish experience, that antisemitism led to the worst crime in modern history, and that their predecessors' indifference or complicity led to these unspeakable horrors. Annan and others affirmed that Israel­like the UN itself­is a much needed and legitimate outcome of that experience. They cited contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism and professed that the lessons of the Holocaust are universal.

    Elie Wiesel was the first Holocaust survivor to be invited to address the UN General Assembly and share his experiences. His remarks did justice to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, who with their dying breaths pleaded: "Remember me!"

    Secretary General Kofi Annan was the first of a handful of speakers to talk about Israel. The absence of any reference to the Palestinians made his address to member states noteworthy … even courageous. Annan had signaled that the UN could depart from its standard mantra of moral equivalence.

    For this, Annan has been harshly criticized in the Arab press. A column in the pro-government Egyptian paper Al Akhram complained that "most Arab listeners would (have) cringe(d) at the diplomatic omission of the 57-year old tragedy caused by Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine and its disastrous consequence." Al-Hayat decried "using the UN and the memory of the holocaust to clean up the bloody record of the ‘State of Israel'."

    In the past, fear of such criticism reduced member states to silence about Jews and the Holocaust. Ritualized condemnation of Israel was adopted along with so-called "balanced" statements about both Israel and Palestine.

    Having thus stood up to the Arab world, Annan nonetheless has been accused of pandering by a few members of the Jewish community. Still, on that day, most speakers including Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Congressman Tom Lantos (the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress) commended Annan's moral leadership and "pure" motives in lobbying vigorously for states to approve the 28th UNGA Special Session.

    The Foreign Minister of Israel, who was rightly accorded the honor of speaking ahead of all other UN members, described the Jewish state as the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of dry bones that came to life. His evocation of Ezekiel's poignant imagery reminded the assembly of nations that the Jewish people's claim to the land of Israel goes back to the Bible, and he reiterated Annan's statement that "Israel, like the UN itself, rose from the ashes of the Holocaust." Foreign Minister Shalom told the convocation that Israel was a protective national citadel for Jews everywhere. From the platform of the General Assembly Special Session, Shalom recommitted Israel to the "noble principles" of the UN Charter whose mission was shaped by the lessons of the Holocaust. He asked member states to take actions that include: (1) rejecting moral equivalence and calling evil by its name, (2) preventing antisemitic attacks against Jews everywhere and (3) condemning violence perpetrated by suicide bombers.

    No one walked out. No one denounced the Jews and their "sponsors." No one demanded the ouster of the Israelis, or denial of their credentials. No one argued that the Jews were exaggerating. No one declared them to be "perpetrators" or "racists" or "colonists" as we have heard too often in the past.

    On the contrary, many nations reaffirmed Shalom's points.
    The entire constituency of the world body added their voices to the commemoration, directly or indirectly. Representatives of each of the five regional UN groups – Africa (Guinea); Latin America (Honduras); Asia (Afghanistan); Eastern Europe (Bulgaria) and Western Europe (Portugal) spoke on behalf of all their member states, demonstrating universal respect for the victims, survivors, and liberators.

    Notably, Germany's Foreign Minister publicly affirmed security assurances to Israel. He promised that: "the State of Israel's right to exist and security of its citizens will forever remain non-negotiable fixtures of German foreign policy. On this, Israel can always rely." Poland's Foreign Minister promised ongoing remembrance activities and preservation of the camps. The French Foreign Minister reminded everyone that a key drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rene Cassin, was Jewish and that "by decision of this Assembly and through the courage and strength of the pioneers," the Jewish people were able "to establish its refuge, its State, in the land of Israel."

    The Speaker of the Italian Senate equated demonization of Israel with contemporary forms of anti-Semitism. "It crops up," Marcello Pera warned member states, "when the struggle for life led by the Israelis is labeled ‘state terrorism'." Culture, politics, and false myths paved the way to the Holocaust, he reminded everyone, but today, "if we give in to blackmail or fear, then we have no more instruments to counter the anti-Jewish racism which continues to poison us."

    Unlike President Vladimir Putin at the Polish commemorations, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin mentioned Jews as victims of the Holocaust – something the Soviet Union steadfastly refused to do for 45 years, and prevented the UN from doing. He admitted that antisemitism still thrives in Russia.

    I was astonished by what I was hearing. Could this be happening here? I felt compelled to leave my seat and survey the room. Perhaps the detractors were simply absent? No, there were a group of representatives from Egypt; a diplomat at Libya's seat; others from Jordan; two "observers" taking notes behind the Palestinian Liberation Organization nameplate; an Iranian and an Algerian representative. Others were there too. True, many small island states, and some of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) members were absent – but it was a day after a blizzard in January and their absence did not detract from the extraordinary display of support and solidarity. 150 states --including more than half of the OIC states-- supported convening this commemoration.

    Afterwards, invited guests proceeded to the UN Visitors' Lobby where dignitaries opened an exhibit with visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz –photos by German SS soldiers of arriving Hungarian Jews, and sketches by a Soviet Ukrainian artist of the horrors he saw at the Majdanek extermination camp.

    In summing up the significance of the UNGA Special Session in Haaretz, Israeli foreign ministry official Ronny Yaar concluded that: "There is no doubt that this day is exceptional in the history of Israel's relationship with the UN, and serves as an important milestone in bringing the two parties closer..."

    Indeed, many exceptional steps created an exceptional set of circumstances: The ground rules preventing a resolution or declaration from being adopted at the Special Session also meant that current events (read: the Mid-East conflict) would not be the focus of amendments, denunciations, challenges from the Arab or Islamic bloc. None of them were permitted to deny the Holocaust, the numbers of victims, or the affirmation of the State of Israel as a respected and legitimate outcome of the very events that led to the founding of the United Nations. While only a few states mentioned Israel, they were key European states: Germany, France, Italy, Norway and, of course, Israel itself. In addition, from the podium of the General Assembly Special Session, both the Secretary General and Elie Wiesel movingly invoked the significance of Israel. What a contrast to the days of Kurt Waldheim!

    Surprisingly few people know that Annan's wife is the niece of famed Swede Raoul Wallenberg who saved so many Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Or that Annan himself has an established track record breaking UN taboos where anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are concerned. In 1998 Annan publicly called the "Zionism is Racism" resolution a "low point" in the UN and acknowledged UN bias against Israel. In June 2004, opening the first UN full day conference on antisemitism, Annan stated he wanted Jews everywhere "to feel that the UN is their home too." At the evening reception following the UNGA Special Session, they seemed to take him at his word. The ceremony began with the memorial prayer El Maleh Rachamim and ended with the singing of Hatikvah ("The Hope"). This was reportedly the first time in UN history that a national anthem was played at an event within the building­and it was Israel's.

    Annan's new chef de cabinet, Mark Malloch Brown, at Annan's direction, overturned 59 years of UN protocol to allow this exception to the UN's usual prohibition on prayers and national anthems. Contrary to what one editorialist claimed, UN officials were well aware that Hatikvah was Israel's national anthem and not "a song for the Holocaust victims." And the exhibit, sponsored by the State of Israel and curated by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and remembrance authority in Jerusalem, concludes with an important reminder to UN visitors that: "Most of the Holocaust survivors immigrated to the state of Israel after its establishment in 1948 following a resolution of the United Nations."

    Should we fear that all this gives the UN an unwarranted public relations boost and is a disingenuous ploy to pacify American Jews? Or that the Jewish state will lose more than it gains? It strikes me that those who chose to emphasize the former miss the point-- and those who emphasize the latter lack confidence in Israel. The Special Session reaffirmed Israel's moral legitimacy in the very body that has repeatedly challenged it. Such moments are often what is needed to move forward. Yitzhak Rabin reminded us "you don't make peace with your friends, but with your enemies." Trust is an essential ingredient in that equation and, especially in the case of UN-Israel relations, it requires a leap of faith.

    Will the pattern of UN demonization of Israel persist without skipping a beat? The challenge of reversing the UN's infamously biased resolutions remains. Yet, a few days after the Special Session, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1583, criticizing Lebanon for wrongly insisting that the UN-approved boundaries in the Golan (Shab'a Farms) are not valid-- and for permitting Hizbollah to fire rockets across the Blue Line, leading to recent deaths of Israeli soldiers.

    Political changes in the Middle East justify a reexamination of Israel-UN relations. The UN's tribute presents us with a choice: either to remain mired in a litany of recriminations and rejectionism or to embrace the moment and build on it to achieve all that we yearn for at the UN – respect, fairness, peace and security for Israel. In the spirit of Hatikvah, I choose to be hopeful: it is the traditional response to adversity that has enabled Jews to thrive in an often times hostile world.

    To disparage the UNGA Special Session on the Liberation of Auschwitz, as a few have rushed to do, belies a needless insecurity that Israel and her advocates have been duped. It flies in the face of Holocaust survivor Pierre Sauvage's admonition that "If hope is allowed to seem an unrealistic response to the world, if we do not work toward developing confidence…we will be responsible for producing in due time a world devoid of humanity –literally."

    The Holocaust, we were told, began with words. Perhaps the words spoken at the United Nations­and the promises made-- will auger a new and different beginning. It was a day for the victims, survivors, liberators --- and the future. At the 28th Special Session of the General Assembly, hope trumped cynicism.

    Felice D. Gaer is Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights of the American Jewish Committee. She is the first American to serve on the UN Committee Against Torture which monitors the treaty criminalizing torture. Ms. Gaer is Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal government body. She has authored more than 25 articles on human rights, the United Nations, former Yugoslavia, religious intolerance, antisemitism, and the human rights of women.
    American Jewish Committee

    27/1/2005- Church leaders joined heads of state on Thursday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Poland. "The silence of the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau impels us to uphold, and order the upholding of the dignity of each human being," a Jewish-born French Roman Catholic cardinal, Jean-Marie Lustiger, said in a speech at the commemoration on the site of the former German-run camp. More than one million people, mainly Jews, were gassed to death, or died of starvation and disease at Auschwitz. Victims included 75 000 Poles, 20 000 Gypsies, and 15 000 Soviet prisoners of war. "We are summoned to consider the past and think about the future, so we will stay conscious of the responsibility we carry," said the 78-year-old cardinal, whose mother died in an Auschwitz gas chamber. The camp in German-occupied southern Poland was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945. Pope John Paul II, in a message to the Auschwitz commemoration, said, "This attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will forever darken the history of humanity." In Germany, church leaders expressed penitence for anti-Semitism. "It was not only through its silence and neglect that the church became culpable. More than that, it became enmeshed with the systematic annihilation of European Jewry through a fatal tradition of estrangement and enmity towards the Jews," the Evangelical Church in Germany said in a statement.

    Commemorations in Germany have been overshadowed by an incident in which members of a small right-wing political party, the National Democratic Party, refused to take part in a tribute, in a regional parliament, to holocaust victims. In response, the Protestant leaders called for a European-wide struggle against all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. German Roman Catholics also warned against anti-Semitism. "As we remember Auschwitz, we ask if Germany and Europe have learned from the catastrophe of the holocaust," the country's bishops' conference said in a statement.

    In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, urged that all victims of hatred be remembered. "On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we confront again not simply the darkness of those years but the darkness that can always take hold of the human spirit," said Williams, spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

    In Geneva, the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, said that 60 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz camp the world was still touched by the anguish of the victims. "One of the highest forms of tribute is to resolve that from our different faiths we will covenant to stay vigilant against any tendency that subtly breeds the sentiments that led to Auschwitz," said Nyomi. "Today, some of the tendencies that led to crimes such as took place in Auschwitz continue to plague the world," he said. Nyomi's message was echoed by Lutheran World Federation general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, who noted the holocaust had led to commitments to banish genocide and promote international human rights law. "But these solemn actions have neither brought an end to anti-Semitism nor prevented further large scale slaughter of human beings from occurring," said Noko. "What has happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans and Darfur, to name but a few countries, shows that the commitment never again to allow genocide to occur remains unfulfilled."

    The Rev. Keith Clements, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, said the roots of Auschwitz lay in a widely-diffused anti-Semitism and nationalism. "It connected in turn with the track of racial superiority and the belief that differences of colour, culture and religion were inimical to a 'pure' society," Clements wrote in an article in the British Baptist Times newspaper. "Auschwitz was a uniquely horrific crime in its combination of careful, calculated planning and inhuman brutality," he said. "For over a million previous inmates, shot, gassed, worked or simply starved to death, there was no liberation."
    ©Ecumenical News International

    The world is marking a series of sombre memorials for the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Hitler's death camps. In the second of a series of articles on the fall of the Third Reich, Clive Freeman talks Jewish survivors of the Nazi terror.

    27/1/2005- During the height of the Nazi era, the Weissensee cemetery, located in a north-eastern suburb of Berlin, was the one place in the German capital where Jews could meet and walk about freely without being cursed and vilified. The cemetery was the only sanctuary remaining, when Hitler's terror was stepped up and Jewish movement was restricted about the city. Despite the mass extermination campaigns throughout Europe, the Nazis never did succeed in entirely eliminating Berlin's Jewish population. Some 3,000 survived in the city until 1945, many hiding out with relatives or courageous German friends opposed to Hitler. Neither did the National Socialists manage to completely crush the Jewish faith in Berlin. One rabbi was allowed to remain in the city to take care of burials at the huge Weissensee cemetery, and he held regular secret religious services right up to the end of the war. Weissensee is Europe's biggest Jewish cemetery, with more than 150,000 graves sprawling across 42 hectares of land. Many of Berlin's Jews who died in the worst of the Nazi years are buried here. Long a popular place of pilgrimage for Jews, visitor numbers have swollen recently as elderly Holocaust survivors have been arriving in Berlin en route to commemorative services marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in neighbouring Poland. "It has a lot of emotional significance for us Jews," said a visitor from New York, who grew up in Berlin before fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939.

    Adam Koenig, 82, a survivor of Auschwitz, who lives in Berlin, agrees. "It was the one place where Jews could walk about safely after Hitler's 1930s race laws were implemented," he says. Koenig was 16 when he was shipped to Auschwitz in the early part of the war. His parents, and four of his brothers and sisters perished in the death camps. Shortly before Russian forces arrived to liberate Auschwitz he and thousands of exhausted prisoners were forced by German soldiers to take part in gruesome "western death marches". Those too weak to march any longer were shot by guards. Later, when freed from the Bergen Belsen camp, Koenig said he'd seen "too many horrors" to be capable of celebration. Koenig and his wife Maria - herself a camp survivor - are today retired teachers. For more than 20 years he says he could not bring himself to talk about his wartime experiences. "I then realised that those things that happened should never be forgotten," he says. He and his wife have since given hundreds of lectures to German youngsters about the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. It is 60 years since Soviet soldiers entered the Auschwitz entrance gate and found 7,000 starving, sick and pitiful survivors. Young and gaunt then, ageing and a little unsteady on their feet now, quite a few have arrived in Europe to remember and to grieve, placing lit candles on the railway tracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, 1.1 million were murdered along with Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and others at Auschwitz - by far the most notorious of the Nazi gas camps. It symbolised the world's largest and most gruesome industrial artefact. "It became a Nazi experiment in how to kill the most people in the smallest area, in the least time, for the cheapest price," said an ageing survivor in Berlin Tuesday. It was in Berlin in January 1942 that the chilling blueprints for the Holocaust were drawn up by Nazi henchmen at the so-called Wannsee Conference building, today a Jewish Museum and library.
    ©Expatica News

    three survivors among guests of honour

    28/1/2005- Three remaining Finnish survivors of the Nazi concentration camps were the guests of honour at Thursday's Holocaust memorial gathering at the University of Helsinki's Main Hall. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen was one of the guest speakers at the event, organised by the Finnish arm of Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. "I believe human beings are actually incredibly strong. Still, in the Stutthof camp I often felt as if I didn't have any strength left in me. I lay in my sickbed for long periods of time, but apparently my number wasn't up yet." This is how Mrs Lilly Millner describes her survival, first from the Kaunas ghetto in Lithuania, and then from a concentration camp in Germany. She is one of the three remaining Finnish Jews who survived the Nazi concentration camp horrors during World War II. Mrs Millner, together with Mrs Nenne Kafka and Mr Mayer Franck (see linked article), were the guests of honour at Thursday's Holocaust memorial gathering organised at the University of Helsinki premises. "I am naturally an optimistic person, but in that camp there was little to smile about. Apathy was the prevailing mood for us all. We saw death on a daily basis", Millner recalls. Mayer Franck, the last surviving Auschwitz inmate living in Finland, now visits schools telling the pupils about his survival, for which work he received special thanks from Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen. "It must be the most powerful way of passing on information of what happened", Vanhanen noted. "The school system and the society as a whole bear the responsibility of not letting the past be forgotten." In the Prime Minister's view, the defining of the norms for human rights, as well as the birth of the United Nations are the two most significant success stories of the post-WWII era. The role of international organisations in crisis situations should be advanced, he said. "The European Union, for its part, has taken up this challenge. It is important to discuss what possibilities the Union, and countries like Finland, might have in preventing future possible genocides", Vanhanen says. Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp, where more than a million were put to death. Towards the end of the war, Auschwitz, which was situated near the Polish city of Oswiecim, was the biggest concentration and death camp run by the Nazis, and the most fatal of destinations for its inmates. Yesterday's memorial gathering was organised by the Finnish arm of the Yad Vashem organisation originating from Jerusalem. Yad Vashem is a politically and religiously non-allied organisation, which opposes anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. In Finland, Yad Vashem, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, publishes an Internet site, which contains information about the atrocities perpetrated during World War II.
    ©Helsingin Sanomatk

    31/1/2005- The world looked back on one of its darkest periods in history this month - the Holocaust. January 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. The UN General Assembly held a session January 24 to mark the liberation anniversary. The session was the first of its kind in the history of the UN General Assembly. Six million European Jews (out of a population of nine million) were exterminated during the Holocaust. Millions of others - mostly Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners - were taken to labour camps and perished in Eastern Europe. The Auschwitz liberation commemoration celebrations throughout Europe are seen by many as the region's first collective reflection on the Holocaust and its actions during the 1940s. Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda expressed deep regret over the fate of those who lost their lives, homes, relatives and friends during World War II. Dzurinda told the news wire TASR that Slovaks should remember the Holocaust as the absolute denial of freedom and life, and the liberation of Auschwitz as the ultimate destruction of a distorted ideology. "I believe this sad memory will be a reminder to future generations," Dzurinda said. He also said that Auschwitz and its liberation would remain one of the greatest symbols, even in the 21st century, of the fight to end crimes against humanity. According to Dzurinda, Auschwitz has become synonymous with Nazi cruelty and violence, and the suffering and death of innocent people. Slovak media outlets were critical of the country's politicians for their avoidance of mentioning Slovakia's role in the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to death and labour camps in neighbouring countries. According to the daily SME, Slovak politicians do not see a reason to apologize for the deportation of Jews from Slovakia, since the Slovak Parliament formally apologized for them in a declaration adopted in the early 1990s. In 1939, based on a national census, 136,000 Jews lived in Slovakia. According to estimates, 105,000 Jewish men, women and children did not survive the Holocaust. Slovakia's two strongest surviving Jewish communities are in Bratislava and Košice. Bratislava's Jewish community numbers is around 1,000 people, many of them Holocaust survivors.

    The Slovak state during World War II ran active anti-Semitic campaigns and followed anti-Semitic policies. Slovakia sent its first transport of Jews (several hundred young women from Stropkov and neighbouring villages) to Auschwitz on March 25, 1942. Nearly all perished within the year. Historians estimate that between 60,000 and 70,000 people were deported from Slovakia, destined for the various Nazi death and labour camps in the East. Grigorij Mese nikov, political analyst and the head of a Bratislava think tank, the Institute for Public Affairs, told The Slovak Spectator that the reactions of Slovakia's political elite to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz were "insufficient, superficial and sterile." According to Mese nikov, the reactions "show that the Holocaust is still a rather sensitive topic in Slovakia". "None of those who publicly reflected on the event tapped into the core of the horrors. This shows that Slovakia and its political elites still have an unresolved relationship with Slovakia's wartime state. Our government at the time was responsible for the liquidation of tens of thousands of Slovak citizens," the analyst said. Apart from Jews, the Nazi regime also killed some 23,000 Roma. Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet's appointee representing Roma communities, said Slovakia is still "unable or unwilling to come to terms with its history, fix what can be fixed and mourn what cannot be fixed". "Painful memories of victims - millions of Jews and a hundreds of thousands of Roma - will remain a memory that will become more painful if it is confronted with ignorance, rejection or even denial of past suffering," Orgovánová said in a public statement. "This sad anniversary should motivate us to deepen our understanding ... This is the only way we can, in the future, reach the truth, and forgive," she said. Representatives of the Milan Šimecka Foundation (NMŠ) also think that Slovakia has yet to come to terms with the Holocaust. It is currently pushing the issue into the peripheral vision of the public. "If society is unable to perceive the evil of its past, it is questionable whether it will be able to recognize these tendencies today," NMŠ said in a statement published by the news wire SITA.

    Slovakia remembers village massacres
    Ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of massacres at the villages of Ostrý Grún and Klak in Central Slovakia were held January 22 to 23. A mixed German and Slovak counter-insurgency group called Edelweiss carried out the massacres. The atrocities were reprisals for partisan attacks in the latter stages of World War II. Ladislav Ni nanský, a member of the Edelweiss group and allegedly the commander of the troops during the massacres, is currently on trial in Munich for his involvement. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Czechoslovak court in 1962, but his supporters claim the trial was fixed to embarrass the American and German authorities for supporting Ni nanský as an emigrant. Historians believe that the truth is to be found in US, Russian and German intelligence archives and have appealed for cooperation in clearing up the case. For the first time a German representative, the deputy ambassador, laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the massacres. It was the first time that Germany had been invited to participate. Two survivors of the massacres, Anna Nováková and František Debnár, also attended the ceremonies. Nováková lost her parents, two sisters and a brother in the attack and would have died herself if her sister had not shielded her from the bullets with her body. She said that Ni nanský is now an old man whom she would not wish to suffer, but added, "I would like to hear the truth at last and to know who ordered this tragedy and made my life a misery."
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    Dark humor marks concentration camp survivor's tale

    27/1/2005- Every day for eight months Tomas Radil cheated death. A 13-year-old trapped in the ultimate man-made horror ­ the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp ­ Radil was witness to the worst-imaginable human atrocities. Sent to the camp from Hungarian-occupied Slovakia in spring 1944, Radil endured starvation, torture and the death of most of his family. The Nazis liquidated the Jews from his hometown of Parkany (now Sturovo) and most, like Radil's mother, were killed immediately upon their arrival at Auschwitz. But the Nazis, or Germans, as Radil prefers to call his torturers, since he didn't know what a Nazi was at the time, kept a tiny minority alive for labor, particularly the young, and so Radil escaped the fate of the 6 million Jews murdered by Hitler's henchmen. He estimated that he survived about 10 selections, the constant culling of the camp population when prisoners would line up and be divided into groups: those who would live and those who would be gassed. "On Yom Kippur we had to run to a field and pass under a bar. If we were tall enough to reach the bar with our heads, we were not sent to the gas chambers. That day I just reached the bar," he recalls in his small apartment near Prague's Vysehrad hill. Another day he was chosen for death but at the last minute, en route to the gas chamber, a guard pulled him and a few other boys aside to complete some laborious task. "I looked back and my schoolmate was waving goodbye to me," Radil said. As the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau's liberation by Russian troops Jan. 27 approaches and world leaders gather at the former death camp to mark the occasion, Radil is stirred by memories of the story many familiar with the Holocaust do not know: the story of coming home. A retired psychologist and neurologist, Radil has dedicated the last 25 years of his life to Holocaust research, focusing on large themes such as politics and ethics. However, it is through what he calls his child's tale that he vividly recreates the absurdity of a Europe forever scarred by Hitler's dream of an Aryan world.

    Don't look for logic
    A lung infection prevented Radil from being taken by the Germans on what was later known as the great death march, the forced movement of prisoners to the West as the Germans retreated from camp. "When the Russians got to the camp a few weeks after the Germans had left, all they found was a few thousand of us who were in the hospital," Radil explained, adding that the Germans were in such a rush they had not had time to exterminate the sick. Why would the Nazis have a hospital at a death camp? "They would cure you to some extent, then kill you. Don't look for logic," he said of his captors' strategy. Radil immediately set to work in his hospital gown. He joined a survivors' group charged with feeding the sick and transporting food that had been hidden away by the Germans. "I was like an importing firm," he recalled wryly. The group was also preparing food for the Russians, whom they expected to arrive any day. When they came, the Russians tried to do their best for the former prisoners -- arranging for documents and escorted transports home --but the situation was chaotic, Radil said. "They were still fighting a war, and who could really believe the Germans would not fight back? I thought it best to try to go home on my own," he said.

    Krakow 'circus'
    So with a Romanian prisoner Radil walked the 50 kilometers to Krakow. He quickly lost his only possession, a blanket. "Krakow was like a circus, full of so many war prisoners from all over Europe, even Americans. And there were these dwarfs, the Germans had experimented on them in the camps, and now they started performing." The Russians issued Radil a special paper ­ a bumazhka ­ which said he had been in Auschwitz and that all military personnel should provide him with aid. As Slovakia was still occupied by the Germans, Radil would first go to Hungary and wait until it was safe to cross the border. "On the Hungarian train the conductor kicked me out. Maybe he couldn't read my bumazhka but also, the Hungarians were fascists, they were fighting on the side of the Germans, you know." Traveling through Hungary, Radil got used to being the messenger of doom. "People asked me what had happened in Auschwitz. I told them that all the Jews were killed in the gas chambers. They didn't believe me. They said it was impossible." Arriving in Vac near the Czechoslovak border, Radil received a surprising request from the town's surviving Jews. Could he assist in the matzoth (Jewish bread) making? "It was getting close to Passover, so I had to help out," he said. When the Germans retreated from Slovakia in the spring, Radil was able to board a Russian military train bound for his town. "I gave this soldier a bottle of spirits and showed him my bumazhka so I could board the train. But after he drank the whole bottle, he kicked me off, and I had to walk the rest of the way," Radil said with amusement. "It was funny. You know, we weren't always crying in those days. You had to keep your sense of humor to survive." The first concentration camp survivor to reach his town, Radil was again the messenger, and nobody recognized him at first. There was little time, however, to reflect on all that happened, as his house had a caved-in roof and he was its only inhabitant. He was 14 and a half, and again he went to work. "I signed up to be a cook for the people coming back from the camps." Then word got back to Radil that someone had seen his father. At Auschwitz he had been selected for labor upon arrival. It was the last time Radil had set eyes on him. Every day he cooked lunch hoping to welcome his father home. "And then one day it happened. And when I saw him, I said, 'Lunch is ready.'" Radil, coming back to the present, quickly changes his mood. He is not at all optimistic that his experience matters to the world today. "Look at what that short-sighted British prince did," Radil said regarding Prince Harry's now infamous donning of a German soldier's uniform, with Swastika armband for a costume party. "Who is interested in this anniversary on Jan. 27? Not too many people. Who is interested in these 6 million people? Sixty years later, people should be more interested in the Holocaust."
    ©The Prague Post

    Barbara Stimler
    Barbara Stimler lives in an immaculate bungalow in Stanmore, north London. "All my life I wanted to have a nice home," she says, "because I lost my home when I was 12 years old." Stimler is 77 but looks younger in her smart grey suit. She cries when she relates her experiences, but despite the stress she is a regular speaker at schools. "The children listen to me as if they are glued on," she says. "They don't move. I get myself very exhausted when I talk to them, but I somehow feel lighter in my heart. After I have spoken, the children shake hands with me and hug me and thank me for coming. The boys are even more emotional than the girls." Stimler was born in Poland, in the town of Aleksandrow Kujawski, close to the German border. There was no phony war here: the Germans invaded on Friday September 1, 1939. "We were straightaway bombed," she recalls. "The corner of our house was hit immediately and our neighbours were killed." She was 12 years old, the only daughter of Sarah and Jakob, who owned a small textile shop. She was, she says, "the apple of my father's eye". She has a photograph of the two of them walking hand in hand in her home town, her proud father, dark and thick-set, in his man-of-the-world homburg.

    After the invasion, the family moved from town to town in increasing desperation. Her father was arrested, her mother beaten up, she was molested by SS guards. Routine terror. They spent some time in a concentration camp in Kutno, central Poland, where the gates were locked and bread thrown over the walls to the starving inmates. They were among the few who escaped Kutno, but it was a brief stay of execution. In March 1941, all the Jewish men in the town of Lubranec, where they were staying with her uncle, were suddenly rounded up. This included her father, her uncle and his two sons. They were taken to a camp near Poznan - she and her mother received a postcard - and then silence. She assumes her father was killed in Auschwitz. Two months later, she and her mother were transported to the 140,000-strong Lodz ghetto. Stimler got a job in a children's hospital - "If you were not working in the ghetto, you didn't get a [food] token and the soup was the most important thing of the day" - and her mother worked in a kitchen. They ate; they lived. Then her mother became ill and went to hospital. Treatment was rudimentary and an operation left her paralysed. Now Stimler, still barely 15, had to fend for the two of them. "One day, when I was going to work, they were closing the street," she says, her voice breaking. "I said, 'What am I going to do with my mother?' I carried her into the garden and put her into a hole in the ground, covered her up and went to work, praying to God that she would be there when I got back because I knew when they got her they will finish her off ... I come back in the evening and she is there."

    If Stimler's later experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau were grotesque, the Lodz ghetto was its own corner of hell, one made more hideously draining by her mother's condition. In Auschwitz, at least, the battle was only to keep herself alive. Caged like animals, treated worse than animals, the prisoners relied on instinct. In the ghetto, there was a community of sorts, though governed by terror.

    "One day," recalls Stimler, "two lorries came to the children's hospital. They told all the children to go into the lorries. The children don't want to go in the lorries; they are hiding themselves behind us. I didn't know what they're going to do with the children and I can't go with them because my mother is at home. Eventually the children left, and do you know what they did with them? They finished them in the lorries, gassed them. Now I have to look for another job." After the Wannsee conference in January 1942, at which the SS determined on the "final solution", the ghetto clearances and deportations accelerated. Auschwitz-Birkenau beckoned. "One Sunday in the summer of 1943, two SS men came to our house and took me away," says Stimler. "I just stood in the door and said, 'Mamma, God should be with us.' " She never saw her mother again or discovered what happened to her. She assumes she was shot immediately. Now Stimler was alone. "They took me to the cattle trains, gave us each a loaf of bread, put us in these trains, we were like sardines. In the middle was a barrel with water. When the train was going, the water was splashing everywhere; the stench, nobody can imagine. Two women were feeding me with sugar. I didn't know where we were going, but they did. I'd never heard of Auschwitz, I thought we were going to work. "Eventually the train stopped, everybody should get out. It was night when we got there. We had to go one after the other to the gate; Mengele was standing there [Josef Mengele, a senior doctor in the camp and the arbiter of life and death, notorious for his experiments on prisoners]. I didn't know who Mengele was; now I know. These girls are still feeding me with sugar. He takes your hand and looks at the front and back, and out. I go to the right. They put us in fives and start counting us, counting us for ever. "I can see a big chimney and the stench coming out from it is incredible. I still don't know where I am. It gets a bit lighter and I can see the barracks surrounded by electrified wire. A woman comes out of one of the barracks. She has no hair, she has no shoes, she wears a short dress. How could I think that in two hours I would look exactly the same? I thought maybe in this barracks they have mentally ill women."

    Stimler spent a year in Auschwitz until, in the summer of 1944, she was moved to a work camp called Pirshkow on the Polish-German border, where she and 1,000 Polish and Hungarian women, all Jews, had to dig anti-tank ditches, fortifications against the advancing Soviet army. The following February, with the German army in flight, the contingent began a march to Bergen-Belsen, one of the "death marches" faced by many of the surviving prisoners as the Nazis sought both to hide the evidence of their crimes and to fulfil Hitler's "prophecy" that no Jews would survive in Europe. Each night, the exhausted marchers, who had no food and lived on snow, would bed down in barns. One morning, Stimler hid beneath a covering of straw. German soldiers would bayonet the straw to make sure no one was hiding there, but she was far enough down to evade the blade. She was free and eventually fell into the hands of the Russians. Before the war, her extended family in Poland numbered around 80. She had so many cousins, she couldn't even remember all their names. She was the sole survivor. Stimler came to the UK in 1946, married in 1948, built up a clothing business with her husband (who had fought in the Polish army, under British command, in the war), and had two sons. She built the home she craved. She had a nervous breakdown in 1956, a year after her younger son was born; she had her tattoo removed on the advice of her psychiatrist; she rarely talked of her experiences, not even to her husband. Then, 10 years ago, she recorded her story for the British Library. "The interviewer sat opposite me. I just looked at one spot, and I was getting redder and redder, but it was very helpful," she says. Her granddaughter presented flowers to the Queen at the opening of the permanent exhibition on the Holocaust in the Imperial War Museum in 2000 (an event that, Stimler noticed, was sparsely covered by the mainstream media). Since then she has retold her story in many schools. "When I speak to the children, I ask myself, 'Do they believe me?' Because sometimes I don't believe it myself."

    Leon Greenman
    The first thing you notice about Leon Greenman's large but shabby terraced house in Ilford is that it has mesh shutters. He had them put up 10 years ago, soon after the National Front threw bricks through the windows. Two years ago, he received a Christmas card from the local fascists telling him he would make a lovely lampshade. Don't tell Greenman that nazism is a dry-as-dust historical phenomenon. Greenman is an amazing 94, living alone in one room of his cold house; a room piled with papers and portraits of the wife and child he lost in the Holocaust, and of mementoes of his postwar days as a singer of ballads. The other rooms in the house are, he says, full of the goods he used to sell on street stalls, once the Beatles had done for the world of dance bands. He retired from the markets more than 20 years ago, so maybe the ladies' handbags in the locked-up rooms are back in fashion now. The most poignant portrait on his living-room wall is of his son, Barnett "Barney" Greenman, born on March 17 1940; gassed in Auschwitz two and a half years later. Child and victim of war. Long, curly hair and a gorgeous, girlish face, thrusting a hand to a future that was to be denied him. Even now, had he lived, Barney would be only 64. The Holocaust. Greenman, small, wiry, a boxer in his youth, fought on, has spent 60 years combating racism, was awarded the OBE for his struggle, but in truth never recovered from that blow. He was born in London, one of six children, but his paternal grandparents were Dutch and his father took the family to live in Rotterdam when Leon was five. His mother had died three years earlier and his father, struggling with his large family, had married his housekeeper. She beat Leon; the schoolmasters beat Leon; he took up boxing, a pocket battleship, unsinkable. He worked in a barber's shop and later in his wife Else's father's book business, commuting between London and Rotterdam. Greenman's failure to leave Rotterdam before the Nazi occupation of Holland in May 1940 was a catalogue of catastrophes. He intended to leave in 1938 but was reassured by the Munich agreement; the British consul told him that, as a British passport holder, he would be evacuated in the event of war, but when war came, the embassy staff fled; he gave his passport to a friend for safe keeping; the friend panicked and burned it. Greenman was paperless, stateless, friendless. In October 1942, he and his wife and son were taken to the nearby Westerbork concentration camp. Four months later, they were moved to Auschwitz. Greenman was one of 700 Dutch Jews in that consignment; he and one other man survived.

    In his book, An Englishman in Auschwitz, Greenman describes his arrival in Birkenau. "The women were separated from the men: Else and Barney were marched about 20 yards away to a queue of women ... I tried to watch Else. I could see her clearly against the blue lights. She could see me, too, for she threw me a kiss and held our child up for me to see. What was going through her mind, I will never know. Perhaps she was pleased that the journey had come to an end. We had been promised that we could meet at the weekends after our work was done. We will have a lot to talk about, I thought to myself." "I thought they must be still alive," says Greenman now. "I didn't know they were gassed within hours. I didn't know about gassing. In my mind, there was nothing wrong with them. I told myself I would find them. They were somewhere in the camp. We'll wait and see. That went on day after day after day. The thought that I would see them again kept me going." Greenman's hairdressing helped him survive: one of his jobs in the camp was to shave the inmates' beards. In September 1943, he was sent to the work camp at Monowitz, where he was employed as a builder, extending the camp. "You were there to work and to die," he says, "and the big fellers went quicker than the little ones." Greenman is a little over five feet tall and built for survival. He endured almost a year and a half in Monowitz, then a 60-mile death march to Gleiwitz, and a nightmarish five-day journey in open cattle trucks to Buchenwald, from which he was liberated by American forces on April 11 1945. A tiny man with the largest of hearts, in this tiny, paper-strewn room that contains the century.

    Anita Lasker Wallfisch
    Anita Lasker Wallfisch is a cellist. Music is her life; music also saved her life: she played in the women's orchestra in Auschwitz. The orchestra played marches as the slave labourers left the camp for each day's murderous work and when, if, they returned. They also gave concerts for the SS, who, as good Germans, adored music. Reinhard Heydrich, the orchestrator of the final solution, was an accomplished violinist. At 79, Lasker Wallfisch's intellect burns bright. She plays Scrabble at weekends with a survivor of the Theresienstadt camp who is 101 and speaks half a dozen languages. "We don't score," says Lasker Wallfisch. "We play for the beauty of the words." She does not treat the Holocaust as the centre of her life, but as an episode in her life. After the war, she married a concert pianist; went on to be a professional cellist with the English Chamber Orchestra; her son, Raphael, is a distinguished cellist; her grandsons, too, are musicians. Despite the war, the camps, there is continuity. Lasker Wallfisch is from a professional Jewish family, living in Breslau, then part of Germany, now in Poland and renamed Wroclaw. Her father was a lawyer; her mother a fine violinist; she had two sisters, Marianne and Renata, both a few years older. They suffered discrimination from 1933, and by the time war broke out their situation was desperate. "My father had fought at the front in the first war," she says. "He had the Iron Cross and kidded himself that it couldn't be as bad as it seemed, but it slowly got as bad as it could be." Marianne, the eldest sister, had fled to England, but in April 1942 Anita's parents were taken away. She had no official notification of their fate, but believes they were murdered at Isbica, near Lublin, in Poland. "I'll never be sure what happened," she says, "but it is possible that they were among the people who were forced to dig their own graves and then shot into them." She and Renata were not deported because they were working in a paper factory. There, they met French prisoners of war, and started forging papers to enable French slave labourers to cross back into France. In September 1942 they themselves tried to escape to France, but were arrested at Breslau station by the Gestapo. Only their suitcase, which they had already put on the train, escaped.

    Her descriptions of life under the Nazis are startlingly matter-of-fact; it was lunacy, surreal. "Life was completely arbitrary. You didn't know what was going to happen the next moment." She says she never lost her sense of the absurdity of what was happening. Take that suitcase. The Gestapo were anxious about its loss, and carefully noted its size and colour. "I had been in prison for about a year," she recalls. "Then one day I was called down. A suitcase has arrived: could I identify it? It was my suit case. They stole everything, they killed everybody, but that suitcase really mattered to them. They had found the suitcase and everything was fine, though I never saw it again because it then went into the vaults of the prison and later I saw a guard wearing one of my dresses." Lasker Wallfisch and her sister were eventually sent to Auschwitz on separate prison trains, a far less squalid way to arrive than by cattle truck. Less dangerous, too, since there was no selection on arrival. In the inverted world of Auschwitz, criminals were valued more highly than Jews. Better yet was to be a prisoner who played the cello. "When I arrived, the girl [a fellow inmate, not an SS guard] processing me asked me what I did before the war. I told her I played the cello. What a stupid thing to say. 'Fantastic,' she said. 'You'll be saved.' She called the conductor of the orchestra, Alma Rosé. As it happens, they didn't have a cellist. There were crazy instruments in the orchestra - mandolins, accordions - but no cello, so I was like manna from heaven." Playing in the 40-strong orchestra saved her - and saved her sister too, since Anita was able to supplement Renata's meagre rations. "As long as they wanted an orchestra, they couldn't put us in the gas chamber," she says. "That stupid they wouldn't be, because we are not really replaceable. Somebody who carries stones is replaceable." Does she feel guilty about the relatively privileged existence she led? "You don't feel guilty. You arrive in Auschwitz and you think you're going to be gassed. But something different happens. Somebody gives you a cello and says, 'Play something.' Are you going to say, 'I'm sorry, I don't play here; I only play in Carnegie Hall'? No, you're bloody lucky, glad, surprised. Guilty, no."

    By October 1944, Alma Rosé had died, the orchestra was missing her leadership and playing poorly, the Russians were advancing, it was time to leave. Fortunately, I don't ask her what happened to the cello. "I was interviewed once," she volunteers, "and the woman asked me whether I still played the cello I played in Auschwitz. I threw her out. I said, 'Don't come and interview me if you haven't got the slightest idea of my story.' We were sent from Auschwitz to Belsen [near Hanover in northern Germany]. Do you think you say, 'Excuse me, I've got to pack my cello up'?" She was taken on a train with 3,000 others to Belsen. "It was a very small camp when we arrived," she says, "nothing like it was later. There were no barracks for us, so we were put in tents; then the tents collapsed in the rain. Suddenly there were barracks - God knows what happened to the people there before us. People ask me which was worse, Auschwitz or Belsen? But they were completely different. Auschwitz was a well-organised extermination camp with all the apparatus. In Belsen they didn't need the apparatus; you just perished anyway. There was no food, there were diseases, it was the end - and then the death marches arrived. There were no facilities, nothing. It was complete chaos. We were there for six months, with nothing to eat. Occasionally, somebody found a turnip. After the liberation, the allies found that there was food there. They just hadn't given it to us." Renata, who could speak English, became an interpreter with the British army, and suggested her sister enlist as well. "She said to me, 'Why don't you become an interpreter too?' I said. 'I can't speak English.' She said, 'It doesn't matter.' So I became an interpreter and we were part of the British army." They contacted Marianne back in the UK, and in 1946 Anita and Renata moved to Britain. Anita had a successful musical career; Renata worked for the BBC, married and moved to France, where she made films and still lives; Marianne, who escaped the camps, died soon after the war in childbirth. "Such," says Lasker Wallfisch, "are the ironies of fate."

    Maria and Alec Ossowski
    Maria and Alec Ossowski sparkle. So does their antique shop - "It's called Ossowski's, of course!" - in London's Belgravia. Their shop specialises in 18th-century furniture. Alec is 82, Maria is 79, and their love, undimmed 60 years after they first met, fills the room. This is a Holocaust story with the happiest of endings. The Ossowskis are Polish non-Jews, a category often forgotten. Some 140,000 were sent to Auschwitz; fewer than half returned. Alec was sent to the camp because he had worked for the Polish resistance, dispatching SS officers. "I did it with pleasure," he says. "My brother Edmund had already been killed by the Nazis and I had seen my mother crying." Maria was sent because the Gestapo thought she was in the resistance, but she had been an unwitting courier for a friend of her family, delivering packages to a house that was suspected of harbouring partisans. Maria was taken to Auschwitz in May 1943; Alec, three months later. Maria went with 120 other female political prisoners; 30 survived. The survival rate was far higher than for Jews because there was no initial selection for death and they got better treatment, though malnourishment, disease and the brutality of the guards still took a devastating toll. Maria dug drainage ditches and was then moved to an outcamp, where conditions were better. Alec, who spoke fluent German, worked in the hospital at Auschwitz - first as "Scheissmeister", cleaning the toilets, then as a clerk. Maria was one of the few inmates who owed her survival to Josef Mengele. "The transfer to the outcamp saved my life," she says. "There is no doubt about it. I had TB in both lungs, typhoid fever. I was ready to exit. Fifty of us applied for three jobs at the camp. They were to be chosen by Mengele. We had to walk in front of him naked. A friend of mine who worked with him told me later that I got through because I was so young and slim. I had the sort of boyish figure that he adored and my skin was very soft and clear. He hated women with large, sagging breasts and bad skin, and my skin had somehow survived everything in the camp. That's how I got through."

    Alec's desire to resist never deserted him, and in the hospital he managed to account for one SS man. "A new doctor came," he recalls. "He smelt beautifully, while we were all grey. We had to come to attention when he arrived, he was very nasty, but this stupid nit hung his overcoat near us. There was a Hungarian Jew who was ill with typhoid, so I scooped the lice from under his arm and put it inside the coat. The doctor got the disease and died. Somehow, for Russians, typhoid was just an illness - they must have been immune through ancestry. Poles, too, not too bad. But the Germans died." From Maria and Alec, perhaps because their conditions were better, you get more sense of the camp as a functioning social entity; not solely a killing machine. Somehow, life went on, even though you were close to a crematorium whose leaping flames spoke of annihilation. "When the transports arrived, there were columns of people waiting to be killed," says Alec. "A line of people stretching from here to Sloane Square [perhaps half a mile from where we are talking]. Here we were eating, talking, joking, hoping to survive until next day, while down there were people waiting to die." "It is the day after day you survive, hour after hour," says Maria. "There is no other philosophy. You go from moment to moment and say, 'I am still alive.' Your sense of self-preservation is on a high all the time. People who couldn't take it hanged themselves on the electric wires. I had two friends who did this, one of them a very educated doctor. She just couldn't take it any more. But you couldn't ask why this was happening. There was no answer. If you start asking such a question, you start asking, 'Where is the God?' Sometimes you did ask where was the God, but then on the other hand you needed him sometimes on your side."

    Alec was sent to Buchenwald in August 1944. He tells a story analogous to Anita Lasker Wallfisch's lost suitcase. "They evacuate us," he says. "A letter comes for me to Auschwitz. The bloody Russians are coming, but no, the German postal service cross out Auschwitz and send the letter on to me in Buchenwald. Can you imagine that? I had a new number, so they even have to work out what my number had been changed to in order to send it on to me. Strange nation." Maria, too, ended up in Buchenwald early in 1945, but was then taken on another march towards Dresden. She and three friends fled the column and hid in a forest for two weeks, living on nettles, before she was "liberated" by the Russian army, who told her that Poland was now part of the Soviet Union. She and two of her friends met six western prisoners of war, stole bicycles from the Russians and pedalled west for three days. Eventually, they crossed the bridge over the river Mulde, which separated the Russian and American armies, were given new clothes and sent to the British-occupied sector in north Germany. She fetched up in a camp called Northeim, where she met the handsome Alec, by whom she immediately became pregnant. "I was very curious to know what it was all about," she says. Their first son was born in Italy, where both had joined the Polish army under British command. That gave them a route into Britain, where they settled, prospered, built their antiques business. They did not see Poland again until 1960. When Maria finally returned home, her mother did not recognise her. "I never doubted that I would survive," says Alec. "The irony is that some of us committed suicide after liberation because again you have to fight for life." "Some survivors had a feeling of absolutely unnecessary guilt," echoes Maria. "Why was it me?" they ask. "I often ask myself, 'Why was it me?' but then I accept it with good grace. OK, it was me, so how lucky am I?"

    Trude Levi
    In 1944, the Nazis turned their attention to the Hungarian Jews. Within three months, 437, 000 had been rounded up. Most were sent to Auschwitz. Few survived. One who did was Trude Levi, now 80 and living in a neat house in Mill Hill, north London, filled with cards, books, sculptures, memories. She lectures in schools; has written two books, A Cat Called Adolf and Did You Ever Meet Hitler, Miss?; was for many years a librarian, responsible for the Jewish collection at University College London. A life of achievement. Levi was born in Szombathely on the Austrian border. Her father was a Hungarian doctor; her mother was Austrian; she grew up bilingual. The household was filled with music: her father played violin and had written a book on the psychology of music, her brother was studying piano, she played the cello. Her father was also a socialist, involved in leftwing politics - a subversive in the eyes of the Nazis when they occupied Hungary, a wartime ally, on March 19 1944. Levi was working in Budapest when the tanks rolled in. "It was a beautiful Sunday morning. I had taken the tram along the Danube and on the way back all along the Danube there were German tanks and soldiers with machine-guns. They were losing the war and you would have thought they would have needed all their rolling stock and manpower for the front; instead they sent it to Hungary to take away the Jews." Non-Jewish friends offered to hide Levi, but she wanted to see her parents again. "I decided to go back mainly because the last time I was at home I had had a terrible row with my father. I had left without saying goodbye and I wanted to go back and make peace with him." It took her a month to get permission to travel, and she didn't leave for Szombathely until April 24 - a day after her 20th birthday. "I had to wear a yellow star; I was only allowed to sit on the train if there was an empty bench; I was not allowed to sit next to anyone, speak to anyone, go to the toilet or go to the restaurant. I arrived a few minutes after six o'clock. After six no Jews were supposed to be in the street. Jews were not permitted to board a tram. I arrived with a rucksack, a heavy suitcase and with a cello on my other arm, and had to walk through town. I was stopped constantly. People said, 'How dare you be in the street after six o'clock?' I was called 'dirty Jew', 'Jewish pig'. I was spat at, kicked.

    "When I got home I found my mother, who was 49 years old and been quite energetic, a completely broken, confused old woman. The flat was in complete disarray. All the books, over 3,000 of them, were on the floor, my father's medical instruments were in a heap, and my father wasn't there. Two SS men had come, searched the flat for subversive literature and took my father away." In early May, Levi and her mother were taken to the town's newly formed ghetto. (Her brother was in the Hungarian army and was put to work in the mines after the occupation. He survived, but the brutality of a Hungarian foreman, who amused himself by throwing rocks at him, damaged his pianist's hands.) At the end of June, Levi and her mother were moved to a concentration camp and then to a transit camp, where they were reunited with her father. On July 1, under a hot sun, they were put into a cattle truck with 120 other Jews - all intellectuals, the SS assured them - and dispatched on the five-day train journey to Auschwitz. She recalls that hellish journey with vivid, unswerving detail. "We tried to deal with the situation in a civilised manner: we built benches to sit on out of suitcases. There were two buckets for our human needs. First of all, we had to overcome our inhibitions, because we were men, women and children, but two buckets were not sufficient for 120 people and with every jolt of the train muck spilled out and we had to sit in the muck. "At one point on the second day, the train stopped and the loudspeakers told us to get ready to get out, so we destroyed our seats and everybody took their luggage and we stood there. Then it got dark and the train started with a jolt. We fell over each other and from then on people were hysterical. There was very little air - two small openings sealed with barbed wire. Because we didn't get enough air, we became dehydrated; our lips were broken up and hurt very badly; I had a piece of bread and wanted to eat it but I couldn't swallow any more. "People started screaming; people started going mad; people started having heart attacks and dying, and we travelled with the dead and the mad and the screaming for five days and five nights. On the sixth day, in the morning, the train stopped, the doors were opened, soldiers shouted, 'Out out, quickly quickly,' and told us to leave our luggage, we would get it later. Of course we never saw our belongings again. We had arrived in Auschwitz. It was July 7 1944." Levi's mother had collapsed and was dragged from the wagon to be gassed. She was separated from her father and never saw him again. She later unearthed documents showing that he was still alive on August 2, but believes he was gassed soon afterwards following a large selection by Mengele and camp commandant Rudolf Höss.

    Levi was put into a bunkless barrack with 1,200 women. "We could only sit as we had in the cattle truck - back to back, arms pulled in. There was a yellowish, greyish powdery soil and we were just sitting on the ground." Their days were spent being endlessly counted, standing in the assembly area for hour after hour. "All the figures in the camp had to tally," says Levi. "We were there until August 2 when we were called out of the barracks," she remembers. "We had to stand in rows of five at the assembly place - all the women from Birkenau B2. We were told to strip naked - it was still dark and freezing cold - because we were going to have a medical examination. We stood there for 14 hours until it was nearly dark again, when Höss and Mengele arrived and we had to pass in front of them showing the palm of our hand - I still have no idea why it was the palm - and Mengele said - I'm using the term he used in German - 'Open your mug.' I think he wanted to see whether you had gold teeth. Anyway, he said right or left. I suppose the people with gold teeth all went right because those who went right, that was the end of them. I was sent left." Levi had been selected for life. She was sent to a work camp called Hessisch-Lichtenau near Kassel in central Germany, where she worked in a munitions factory (all the time, with her Hungarian co-workers, trying discreetly to sabotage the bombs they were assembling). She was there until the following March, when the advance of the allies forced its closure. She was taken to Tekla camp near Leipzig, and then on a death march, back and forth across the river Elbe, Americans to the west, Russians to the east, spotter planes above targeting the SS guards, who donned prisoners' outfits to avoid being shot at. Ten days with only snow and, once, raw horsemeat and some uncooked rice to eat, teeth falling out, and anyone who couldn't stand shot by the SS. "I could hardly walk any more, I was completely finished," says Levi. "The sun started to rise and while we were crossing the bridge over the Elbe, I experienced one of the most beautiful sunrises in my life. I arrived at the other side when the sun was up and I collapsed. I knew it was the end of me. They are going to shoot me now. Two guards came, they first shouted at me to get up, but I couldn't, so they butted me with their guns. Then one of them said, 'Oh leave her, she's not worth a bullet,' and they walked away to chase those who could still walk."

    Three years later, Levi was telling her tale in Durban, South Africa, where she was staying with her first husband, a Hungarian musician. "I was one of the first survivors to go there," she says, "and I was asked by a Jewish organisation to tell them what happened to me. I had a memory lapse after the war and there were quite a lot of things I didn't remember yet, so what I told them was about half of what happened. I didn't have a penny to my name; the dress I had on I picked up from the floor of a Jewish charity organisation - it didn't quite fit; and I gave my talk to women who had come after the pogroms in Russia, so they knew about persecution. "I told my story and, afterwards, a woman came up to me and said, 'My dear, I'm sure you went through a lot, but I am also sure that you exaggerated.' Another woman came up to me and said, 'If you would dress a little bit nicer, you would be quite a pretty thing.' I saw that there was no point in talking. They just didn't understand."

    Mayer Hersh
    Mayer Hersh, a Polish Jew, is 78. After the war, he settled in Manchester and worked as a tailor, a high-class tailor. His father had also been a tailor in Sieradz, near Lodz, before he and his large family were consumed by the Holocaust. Only Mayer and his brother Jakob survived from an immediate family of eight, an extended family of close to a hundred. Today, he wears a well-cut suit; he tells his story with power and precision, patiently putting up with my attempts to move him on, to compress the incompressible into four hours. How dare I? A story of nine camps, a long story of miraculous survival. Hersh was 13 when war broke out. His recollection of that first day of war, the day of doom for his little town and his Orthodox Jewish family, is vivid. "It was the first day of the new term, and I was getting ready for school. It was half past six; school started at eight. My father said: 'Mayer, there's no need to rush, you most probably won't be going to school today.' Little did we know that the school would never reopen for Jewish students. "At first, I was quite excited. After all, a war; I have never lived though a war. Shooting, excitement, adventure, things a young boy would think about. We had no television, didn't even have a radio, hardly ever went to the cinema. This was going to be the excitement of my life. And then I realised, when I saw how worried my mum and dad were, that this was more serious than I could ever understand. Adventure it was, but the saddest in my life." In spring 1940, he and Jakob were taken away to be slave labourers. The SS came and called them out. There was no time for farewells. Mayer was transported to Otoczna, 100 miles from Sieradz, and put to work building the railway that, a year later, would supply the eastern front. Only later did he discover what happened to his family. "In August 1942, the whole ghetto in Sieradz, numbering about 4,000 people, was rounded up and taken to a convent in our town. They were kept there for five days with no food or water; for two days, not even allowed to use the toilet. How do we know the details? The nuns kept a diary. They tried to give some milk or water to the children. The Germans wouldn't allow it. They took out what they considered still able-bodied people, who they intended to put to work in a clothing factory. My father was a tailor, so was my sister Kayla. They were taken out with about 270 others and moved to the ghetto of Lodz. The rest [including his mother and three younger siblings] were taken out in batches and transported to Chelmno, where they were made to get undressed, hand over all their valuables such as wedding rings, and forced into a gassing van, more than 50 at a time. Three of these gassing vans were able to murder 97,000 people in three months."

    Hersh was taken from camp to camp, as the railway was extended, and in May 1943 found himself in Auschwitz. There was, though, no selection on arrival; he had come as a slave labourer, to work on enlarging the camp. "We were taken to a hut, where we were stripped, searched and tattooed," he recalls. "Then we were taken to the block where we would be sleeping. The block leader said: 'Listen, you men, do you think Auschwitz is a holiday camp? Nobody survives here. Can you see those crematoria chimneys over there? That's where you are all going to end up.' Pleasant thought. We were allocated different shelves, or bunk beds as some people call them. They were on three levels, no mattresses, no straw, and you were very fortunate if you were agile enough to get to the very top, because those on the lower levels suffered terrible indignities. People had diarrhoea, all kinds of rubbish is falling down, and then the SS men or the guards would indulge in their usual sport of beating the prisoners at a reachable level." In August 1943, he met his brother Jakob in the camp and advised him to ask for a transfer to the coal mines in Silesia - advice that probably saved Jakob's life, since, though the job was desperately hard, it got him out of the camp. Mayer, meanwhile, worked on the construction of a new part of the camp called "Mexico", which was designated for Jews and political prisoners from Britain. By now, there was no chance of Britain being invaded; Germany was losing the war. But the building plans had been laid, and it was slavishly followed through. Hersh didn't leave Auschwitz until November 1944, when he was taken to Stutthof near the Baltic Sea, then to Stuttgart, and then to a camp called Gotha, where he worked in an underground bunker loading ammunition on to trucks. The day before the allies arrived, the workers began a forced march to Buchenwald, the last part of it through the mountains. "Anyone who stopped got a single bullet through the head. They didn't waste a bullet. For the first time, I had lost all hope. I was in total despair, but the man next to me, a complete stranger, said, 'You can't give up now, the war is virtually finished.' That made me carry on." That was early April. The war was all but done, yet Hersh still had to make the most infernal journey of all. "With the allies approaching, they took us Jews and the Russian prisoners of war on open coal wagons, a hundred men to a wagon, standing up packed like sardines, to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. Because the lines were clogged with troop movements, we spent days in sidings and a journey that should have taken a few days took three weeks. We had no food or water; people were dying like flies. Whenever the train stopped, we would get off and pick up a few leaves and grass to eat and some snow for water. I saw men try to roast the leather from their shoes over an open fire; I even saw Russian prisoners of war turn to cannibalism. There was no flesh on the bodies, so they had to eat the organs. I couldn't do it myself, but nor could I blame them." Of the hundred or so men in each wagon at the beginning, Hersh estimates that only five or 10 made it to Theresienstadt, where, a few days later, the Russian army liberated the camp.

    Jakob, too, had been liberated. He went back to Sieradz in search of family members. Not only were there none there, but a Polish Christian now occupied the family's old house and Jakob was threatened with death if he stayed in the town. He went to Germany and then to Israel, where he lived until his death in 2003. Later, Mayer discovered that his father had been gassed on arrival in Auschwitz in August 1944, while his beautiful, adventurous sister, Kayla, had died when three prison ships were sunk in the Baltic in 1945. It is is not clear whether they were scuttled by the Germans or bombed by the allies. Mayer came to Britain with a Jewish refugee group, settled in Manchester, married, ran a successful tailor's business, retired in the 1970s and, for the first time, began to talk about an adolescence spent in the camps. For 30 years after the war, he says, no one wanted to know. "People weren't interested, not just English people, but Jews too. I remember a Jewish man visiting a group of us in about 1946 and asking whether we got any education in the camps. We could have killed him, choked him there and then. How could a man, a Jewish man, ask such an unfeeling question?" Now people will listen, do want to know, and Mayer says that lecturing on the Holocaust helps to sublimate the pain of losing so many members of his family. "In 1944," he says, "I was daydreaming - when I had a chance to daydream - that maybe I'll get through and survive, knowing by that time that not many people will. I thought how wonderful it would be if I do survive, how people will put me on a pedestal. You know how the childish mind works. Well, I am on a pedestal, I am given certain honours, you come to interview me. To me, this is a fulfillment. But why is it a fulfillment? Because I'm talking about my family, whose lives were extinguished and whose voices were obliterated. The perpetrators also wanted the memory of these people to be obliterated, and that's something I don't want to happen. I want their memory to be preserved for eternity."
    ©The Guardian

    By Ian Willoughby
    25/1/2005- Zuzana Ruzickova is one of Europe's most respected harpsichordists; she has released around a hundred albums and played in concert halls around the world. She was born in Pilsen in 1927 into an upper class Jewish family, a family that was soon to be decimated by the Holocaust; only she and her mother survived. When I visited her in her flat in Prague 3, she told me how life gradually became unbearable for Jews after the Nazi occupation.

    "We had to wear yellow stars, and we were forbidden quite a lot of things - to go to the cinema, to travel on the tram or bus. It came gradually, you know. At first one thought, well this will pass, and then came another thing and another forbidden thing. And then we had to leave the school, and then we had to leave our flat. There was always this faith, this can't last long and the war won't last long, and the Nazis won't last long. "My father had spent four years in America with his family and we had affidavits, so we could have very easily left. But my father was a great patriot and a member of Sokol, a very He said, one doesn't leave one's country when it's in dire distrait. So he stayed. In the end we went first to Theresienstadt."

    Tell us about Terezin. The Nazis famously, or notoriously, tried to present Terezin as a kind of model concentration camp - what was it really like there?
    "First of all there was a lot of hunger. Of course it was very, very inconvenient and...stressing. On the other hand, the elite of Europe were in Terezin. As far as the cultural life was concerned, it was extraordinary. Maybe it was only after the war that I realised how extraordinary it was, because I was only 14 when I went and I imagined everywhere there was such a climate of cultural and scientific...celebrities, as I was used to in Theresienstadt."

    When you heard you were being sent to Auschwitz did you think that was the end?
    "We didn't know that we were being sent to Auschwitz - we were told we were being sent to a work camp somewhere in Poland. But there was no mention of Auschwitz. That was still a secret, but I had some...doubts about it, because I knew Freddy Hirsch - you would have heard about him - and he was one of the people who met the famous Belystok children. That was a group of children who suddenly appeared in Terezin, very emaciated. "When the children went to the showers they started to cry and to weep. Evidently they told something about the gas chambers. Freddy Hirsch came into contact with them - though he shouldn't have, he was sent to Auschwitz because of that - and he told some of it to his friends, and through this I knew something about it."

    When you heard you were being sent to Auschwitz did you think that was the end?
    How long did you spend at Auschwitz, and do you have any particular memories, for want of a better word? "I spent in Auschwitz almost half a year, almost six months. I was at the children's home which was something which Freddy Hirsch managed to get from the Nazis, from the SS. In that children's home Freddy Hirsch and all the other pedagogues tried to give the children a feeling of some normality. Of not lying, of not stealing, of being honest citizens, of trying to be clean. "This was something which saved not only quite a few of the children - some of them of course were not saved - but also quite a few of the pedagogues. Because there was not such despair...There was some sort of, not quite hope because we knew that we would go to the gas-chambers, but a sort of hope for humanity."

    How did you find living day to day? Were you full of despair, or did you go about your daily tasks?
    "Both, both. One had to go about daily tasks, and one was full of despair. I still feel very guilty because I was...I was not managing my despair very well, so that my mother saw how afraid I was of death - I regret that very much, it must have been terrible for her. "Of course one was holding on to life and seeing these fires and the chimneys every day was simply...simply...unbearable."

    You went from Auschwitz to work I believe in Germany, in Hamburg.
    "Yes, that was a lifesaver, because the Allies were...invading and the Germans needed workers. So out of the 5,000 who should have gone to the gas chambers of my transport, 1,000 men and 1,000 women were chosen for work in Germany. And myself and my mother were miraculously chosen."

    Do you recall the moment that you realised that the Germans had lost, that the war was effectively over?
    "The Germans had us building traps for tanks, and we then we heard shooting and we realised that the Allies were very near. Then the Nazis left and didn't leave us any water or food. But the Allies didn't come. For three days we were there, trapped, without food and without knowing what was happening, until the British came the third day. "We didn't realise until the last minute, until I think the afternoon of the...15th of April, when the British armed forces came into the camp, that we were really liberated, that the war was over. By then myself and my mother and most of the girls who survived were so ill that we didn't even have much strength celebrate."

    This Thursday is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. There are many memorials taking place - what do you think is the importance of such memorials?
    "Well, that's quite easy to say. The importance is first of all to warn against any dictators or any terrorists who could again do the same thing - or who even do it now. "And the second thing is of course to warn against things like the Auschwitz lie. The more we die out, we survivors, the more the Auschwitz lie will spread, because it's a terrible thing for humanity to remember. So these memorial days are for me very, very important."
    ©Radio Prague

    A week of commemorative ceremonies remembering the Holocaust reaches a climax on Thursday, with special events on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps, where over 1.5 million Jews lost their lives. Six million Jews were murdered in Europe as part of Hitler's so-called "final solution".

    27/1/2005- A Czech delegation has joined world leaders and elderly survivors gathered in Auschwitz to pay homage to the memory of millions of Holocaust victims and join forces in combating the neo Nazi ideology. Here in Prague, Holocaust Remembrance Day is being marked with a special ceremony in the Senate attended by Parliament deputies, foreign diplomats, the Prague Jewish Community, war veterans and cultural figures. On Thursday morning a plaque was unveiled at Prague's Pinkas Synagogue to people who helped save Czechoslovak Jews from the Holocaust. Children present at the ceremony lit candles in memory of the 80,000 Czechoslovak Jews who perished. Two hundred Jews, many of them children were miraculously rescued by people like Jana Draska. She recalls the trauma of those days:
    "There was an order for Jews to be transported to concentration camps and we knew we had to hide as many children as we could - say they had got lost or died or something. Doctors would give us false death certificates and the children were sent wherever we thought it would be safe for them, Christian families or they were smuggled abroad with the help of others. It was a great risk for people to take - because the price of hiding a Jewish child was great -it meant a death sentence not only for the perpetrator but for his whole family and even relatives."

    Throughout the day there were calls for the lessons of the Holocaust to be handed down to future generations. But sixty years, and two generations on from the events of 1945, how do today's young people perceive the Holocaust? Rosie Johnston went back to school to find out. I'm sitting in on a lesson with Rostislav Konopa, a history teacher in Prague's Smichov district. The school is rather exceptional; with table football on every corner, and voluntary seminars, held over the weekends. So are Rotislav's teaching methods:
    "I think the best way of learning is through experience. I try to bring the history to my students through plays, through excursions. This is why my class have gone on excursions to Auschwitz. I show them photos, I play them audio and video sources"

    Konopa devotes a lot of his syllabus to the Holocaust in particular. He is responsible for a harrowing frieze in the entrance hall, with photos and texts depicting life in Auschwitz. He has also arranged work-shops on the subject. He explains why he thinks it still so important:
    "He who cannot understand the past, can not possibly understand the present. And the roots of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism lie in the past."

    But what of his students? Do they share Konopa's zeal, and think a memory of the Holocaust has a place in the modern world?

  • "I read books on the Holocaust and I saw many films, I heard things from the people who were there, and I think the Holocaust is the world's greatest massacre. It is a very bad thing."
  • "We learnt about it but we didn't go there. I would not like to see that place where so many people were killed"
  • "I sometimes hear the word Holocaust, and I think about it. It was the biggest problem of the twentieth century. I think how horrible people can be to each other, and that is the biggest problem of our world."

    Thanks to Mr. Konopa and his colleagues, students at this one school in Prague seem to know a surprisingly large amount about the Holocaust. But surveys conducted elsewhere in the Czech Republic suggest that this is an exceptional situation, and that sixty years on from the liberation of Auschwitz, our memories of the Holocaust are fading at an alarming rate.
    ©Radio Prague

    20/1/2005- A new postage stamp featuring a drawing by a Jewish boy who was murdered at Auschwitz is to be unveiled in Prague on Thursday. The drawing, by Prague schoolboy Petr Ginz, depicts a view of the Earth as imagined from the Moon. As a boy, he was obsessed with science and space travel, and drew his now famous Moon Landscape aged 14. The black-and-white pencil drawing shows mountains on the Moon with the Earth shining far away in the distance. The artwork was drawn in 1942-1944, when Petr was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Petr was later sent to Auschwitz and killed. The drawing, now immortalised on a postage stamp, betrays the boy's dreams of escaping the ghetto walls that confined him. But there is an extra poignancy to this story. Two years ago, Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, took a copy of the drawing on board the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle. Ramon, whose mother survived Auschwitz, was killed when the shuttle exploded on returning to Earth. The postage stamp is a tribute both to a schoolboy who dreamed of travelling through space and an astronaut whose own dreams ended in tragedy.
    ©BBC News

    27/1/2005- Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks on Thursday apologized on behalf of his country to victims of the Holocaust. "I am aggrieved that Latvia could not have saved and protected all those who lost their lives in our land at the time of the Holocaust", he said after the commemorative ceremonies at Salaspils former concentration camp and on the site of mass extermination of Jews in Rumbula locality. The minister said Latvia at that time had not existed as a state. "If our country managed to preserve its independence during the war, many of those who perished could have possibly been saved", Pabriks said. The functions at Salaspils and Rumbula were timed for the ceremony at Oswiecim. Meanwhile a scandal connected with the publication of a book on Latvia's 20th century history broke out. The book was described as "the most objective publication" at the ceremony in the presidential palace. Salaspils concentration camp is mentioned in the book under its official name of "the enlarged police prison and correctional labour camp". At various estimates, up to 100,000 people were exterminated there during the war.

    The racism and intolerance highlighted by the massacre of Jews in WW2 is very relevant to modern day Northern Ireland, teachers have said. Many believe the lessons of the Holocaust are particularly poignant given the increase in racist attacks in the province. Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp with events planned to remember the one million people who died there. Altogether some 15 million civilians are thought to have been murdered by the Nazi regime, some six million of whom were Jewish. Many schools in Northern Ireland have been focusing on the Holocaust. History teacher Elaine McPeake from St Dominic's High School, in Belfast, said they had put together an exhibition featuring photographs and scenes from concentration camps. "We are really trying to raise overall awareness throughout the whole school about Holocaust Remembrance Day," she said. "Although it's taught in junior school and senior school, we felt we had to mark this very important occasion in some way." She said pupils were genuinely horrified about what had happened. "The feeling is how could this have happened, and why did no-one stop it? There are so many questions they want answered. Unfortunately the answers are just not there," she said. Elaine Sullivan, a senior history teacher at the school, said her subject was very relevant to pupils in today's society. "We point out to them the dangers of racism and of intolerance and we can see it even here in Northern Ireland today, with the attacks on various racial groups." Former Northern Ireland education minister Martin McGuinness said every school curriculum should include Holocaust studies. "History is vitally important for all of all, particularly if we want as I hope most people would, not to repeat the mistakes of the past. "From our perspective, given where we've come from and the experiences that we've had, it's vitally important that all of us recognise the need to ensure that we have in place a society which is tolerant of the diverse views in the community."

    Sir John Gorman, 81, who served with the Irish Guards in north west Europe, and witnessed what he described as "barbarism" in a Nazi camp agrees the Holocaust should be studied in schools. He said: "If this is forgotten about - and, after all, after 60 years it would not be surprising if a number of people think this is all old hat, it's nothing of significance now - but the same spirit of hate can still exist. "We know of hate in Ireland. We know that people can be absolutely violent in their hatred of other members of the community." Pupils at Malone Integrated College in Belfast said they had been taught how badly Jews had been treated and it made them think about ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland. One pupil said: "All this neo-Nazi stuff that's going on in the streets, and the Chinese being sent letters. We should act now and stop it now. Nobody is actually willing to put an end to it." Another pupil said: "The community needs to be much more tolerant and not attack immigrant communities." Mary Stewart, head of history at the college, said the mentality that led to the holocaust was inherent in everyone. "Many of the characteristics and many of the themes of the Holocaust are replicated here. I know that when we talk about the Holocaust to the children, they would bring in the situation here with ethnic minorities. "Quite often I hear the pupils voice similar feelings of bigotry...this idea that there are groups who are almost like scapegoats and are guilty and responsible for a lot of things and it would be better if these outsiders would be removed." "It is a very relevant theme in today's society."
    ©BBC News

    31/1/2005- If the region's Jews are to feel safer, its non-Jews need to acknowledge their own parents' suffering more. "Only pain and memory can give us the strength and wisdom to forever seal the doors behind which lies the road to hell," Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yushchenko, said last week as he stood at the end of that road, Auschwitz. And as Central and Eastern Europe prepares for a year of events to mark the end of World War II, it does have some leaders who know and remember the pain left by the war and other 20th-century horrors. Yushchenko himself is the son of a former Auschwitz inmate and grandson of a victim of the 1932-1933 famine. Poland's prime minister, Marek Belka, is the son of a member of the Warsaw Uprising. The soldier-father of Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lies in a grave in a corner of Romania. But while some of their leaders know and remember their parents' pain, too little is being done across the region to address and respect the pain of those who suffered in Stalin's man-made famine, in the gulag, in the war, in the uranium mines, and from the communists' marginalization of generations of politically unreliable families. And if the majority population of these countries do not know or honor the pain their parents and relatives suffered, what assurance can there be that they will remember and acknowledge the pain of others­including, of course, the Jews?

    The unwritten histories
    Over the past 13 or 15 years, the region has leafed through its revised history books only tentatively. In Ukraine, the famine wins meager official acknowledgement. Histories of the gulag continue to be written mainly by Westerners, not Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians or other "Soviet" peoples. In Central Europe, torturers rarely see punishment, and the suffering of their victims is only fleetingly discussed. But the effects of these traumas run deep. The anxiety lingers: Yushchenko says his mother "still keeps several bags of dry bread at home," a stock for times of famine. And the casualties continue: Psychologists suggest the unusually high rates of suicide in the Baltics and other former Soviet republics is due not just to 15 hard years of attempted transition, but to the Soviet history of murder, incarceration, exile, and repression. "Our psychological trauma was also a burden for our families," one Lithuanian survivor of the gulag has said. "And that lasted for two to three generations." The reluctance to open up the history books is understandable, because doing so opens up a can of worms as well as wounds. But the history of killing, oppression, and control is so intrusive it cannot be ignored. That experience is the home. In some parts, it is an everyday part of domestic politics; lustration--the barring from office of communist functionaries--is a recurrent issue in Central Europe (in Poland, it has flared up with new force in recent weeks).

    It is in attitudes towards other nations: the feeling that the Germans, despite their efforts to confront their treatment of the Jews, have done too little to acknowledge the suffering of other untermenschen--sub-humans--helps explain why the demands of German expellees make Czechs and Poles prickly. And so, inevitably, history shapes geopolitics. A raw past is why the Ukrainian and Polish governments could, in 2002, fall out over one word ("heroically") on a plaque in Lviv to Polish soldiers who died in 1918-1920, and why Baltic presidents are uncertain about attending Moscow's Victory Day celebrations this May. But the reluctance is also because too few objective history books have replaced the communists' deeply partial histories. When, as in Poland, 18 percent of the population died in the war (compared with 0.9 percent in Britain), a thorough history can become a national event. Sometimes welcome--hence the enthusiasm in Poland last year for a history of the Warsaw Uprising written by a foreigner (Norman Davies)--they can, of course, sometimes also be painful, as was the case when Jan Tomasz Gross wrote that Poles massacred their Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne. But, unfortunately, it is hard to find a history book that has become a national event in the former Soviet Union (losses of 11.2 percent in the war, and some say another 30 million between 1918 and 1956). Ukraine, Russia, all the post-Soviet republics need more histories that will tease out the complicated truth of the region's recent past. If that complicated history is not told, there will probably always be someone willing to blame the tragedies on traditional scapegoats--just as, in late 2003, an advert run in an influential Ukrainian paper said the Jews were responsible for the famine.

    No laughter in forgetting
    So, in this context, the speech of Russia's Vladimir Putin at Auschwitz was a disappointment. He warned the world of the dangers of extremism, just as he had warned Russia's young earlier in the week. But then, unlike other leaders, he injected a political note, asserting that "terrorism … is no less insidious or dangerous than fascism, and just as ruthless." Whatever one's view of the terrorists that threaten Russia and the world, it seemed an indecent excess to argue on the site of a factory of extermination that they are as ruthless. But, beyond that, the statement risked creating a new group of people to play the role traditionally ascribed to Jews--as the dark, disturbing "other," outsiders eternally plotting to undermine and destroy the world through a network of invisible agents. In Moscow and other Russian cities, Central Asians and Caucasians are increasingly those dark outsiders. Statistics show the dangers; encounters with them make clear the fear they feel. And, once again, Jews have reason to fear. In Russia, this past week 19 parliamentarians joined 450 or so Russians in signing an open letter calling for the banning of all Jewish organizations (apparently they all fuel racism and extremism). The danger is that in Russia's increasingly illiberal atmosphere, a cycle is again in motion. A theme that repeatedly emerges from interviews* is the social exclusion and discrimination that Russia's Jewish tycoons experienced in the Soviet era.

    When ordinary Russians dwell on the Jewish background of (some of) the oligarchs and when rank-and-file politicians pen hateful open letters, the Kremlin's campaign against the oligarchs takes on a dangerous cultural toxicity. A fresh era of hatred and social exclusion may not have arrived, but such dangers cannot be ignored. To stop that cycle and protect Russia's Jews, Central Asians, and Chechen look-alikes, Putin needs to do more than visit Auschwitz and make exhortations. He needs to do more than he did in 2001, when he paid a low-key visit to the Solovetsky Islands, part of the gulag archipelago. The Russian state, which took 12 years to decide to give Stalin's victims and their children 92 rubles a month (then worth $2.90), needs to do more to acknowledge the suffering of generations of Russians. That starts with objective, honest history books. But, unfortunately, the Kremlin has imposed tighter controls over how history is taught and commissioned textbooks that, in Putin's words, should "cultivate a sense of pride among the young in their history, in their country"-- which of course leaves little room for a rounded picture of one mass murderer. And so, unsurprisingly, there was little room in the state press during the 50th anniversary of Stalin's death, in 2003, for Stalin's purges and his gulag. If Russian state television finds time amidst this year's celebrations to dwell on Stalin's crimes, if Putin holds a major state commemoration of Stalin's victims on the Solovetsky Islands or along Siberia's "road of bones," and when a major and objective history of the gulag and of Stalin becomes a national event in Russia, we can feel greater confidence that Russians are honoring and remembering, rather than forgetting their relatives' pain. And, at that point, Russia's Jews (and those who share the color of "terrorists") might also be able to sleep a little easier.
    ©Transitions Online

    25/1/2005- As Russia prepared to take part in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, and just ahead of President Vladimir Putin's visit to the memorial, hundreds of Russian nationalists including 19 parliamentarians asked Russia's prosecutor to ban all Jewish organizations in the country as extremist. "Let us assure you, Mr. Prosecutor-General, that there are a large number of well-established facts which lead to the indisputable conclusion: the negative assessment by Russian patriots of typical Jewish qualities and [their] actions against non-Jews are based on true facts and what is more these actions are not accidental, but prescribed by Judaism and have been practiced over the past 2000 years," the document, signed by Rodina party member Alexander Krutov, read. "Therefore, statements and publications against Jews are self-defense, which may not be stylistically correct, but justified in their essence." Krutov, who also edits the nationalist magazine Russky Dom, was joined by other deputies from the Communist party and the Liberal Democratic party. In the document, they called the Jewish religion "anti-Christian and inhumane, whose practices extend even to ritual murders". "In our appeal we ask the prosecutor to answer what spurred such activity among Jewish organizations. We are also prepared to discuss the issue with representatives from these organizations at a round table," the MP's statement read. As for the violent anti-Semitic attacks documented in Russia at an increasing rate over the past years, the nationalists attributed them to the Jews. All such incidents it is claimed, including explosions in synagogues and the defacement of Jewish cemeteries, are carried out by the Jews. "A majority of ant-Jewish activities all over the world are carried out by the Jews themselves with a prevocational aim," the letter reads.

    Monday's letter astonished the Jewish and international community alike, with rights activists already concerned over last week's attack on Rabbi Alexander Lakshin by skinheads in a Moscow subway. Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin said "it was impossible to imagine that such an appeal had emerged, especially at the time of the Holocaust anniversary," the Russian Information Agency Novosti quoted him as saying. "If such an appeal was indeed made and complaints against it are filed, I ­ as the human rights commissioner ­ will look into this matter. Since the letter is reported to have been addressed to the Prosecutor General's Office, let the latter investigate it, but from the opposite angle," Lukin said. Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, who had earlier praised Russia for improvements in anti-Semitism, speculated on the possible motives behind the letter. "The first possibility is that the gentlemen who signed this fantastical document are not quite sane. If that is the case, then I pity them, but cannot help them. I am not a psychiatrist," quoted Lazar as saying on Monday. "The second possibility is worse," he added. "These gentlemen are perfectly sane, but are infinitely cynical. They know perfectly well that their accusations are lies…. But they knowingly commit the forgery hoping that by playing the anti-Semitic card they can win more votes." "A few years ago nationalistic statements were considered unacceptable. Now they are entering the main-stream of Russian politics," the Financial Times quoted Galina Kozhevnikova, the author of a recent report on radical nationalism in Russia, as saying. She says that while it would be wrong to say that President Vladimir Putin ­ who is due to attend the Auschwitz memorial ­ provokes xenophobia, "he does little to prevent it either". Anna Gerber, of the Holocaust Foundation, told that the timing of the statement will force Putin to address the problem in his upcoming trip abroad. "We've been through all this before," she told the news site, "after the war when the country was living through years of hardship [Josef Stalin] pitted the people to search for an enemy: this became the Jewish anti-fascist committee… and would have ended quite tragically had it not been for the death of [Stalin in 1953]. Later there was the policy of government anti-Semitism, so there's already a platform for the [anti-Semites]. But even Hitler waited eight years after coming to power before he began persecuting religious organizations. The authors of the letter demand that the government do this immediately."

    The secretary of the Russian Journalists' Union, Mikhail Fedotov, predicted that the letter could backfire. In a statement to, he speculated that the document could have been yet another attempt to defend Boris Mironov, a former Press Minister and ultranationalist who is currently wanted by Russian authorities on charges of inciting inter-racial hatred. In that case, Fedotov said, "since these people address the public, they themselves risk violating the law on inciting inter-racial hatred." He also added that the letter would force Putin to once again attempt to deny the widespread problem of anti-Semitism in Russia. Alexander Brod, who directs the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, called the attempts to ban Jewish organizations "absurd, since all Jewish organizations are registered with the Ministry of Justice and it's very naive to expect the Prosecutor General to ban them." In his statement to, Brod also mentioned Mironov's anti-Semitic propaganda. Like other rights activists and commentators, Brod assessed Putin's attempts to address the problem of chauvinism and anti-Semitism in Russia as weak. "My colleagues and I hope that the president will speak out not just about some abstract extremism, but admit that Russia is suffering [from the problem]." According to Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism, an Israeli government body, the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents in Russia rose from four to 55 in the past year. Meanwhile, according to recent opinion polls, 53 percent of Russia's population supports the idea of "Russia for the Russians"; 48 percent think that the influence of Jews in politics and business should be restricted and 43 percent say there should be restrictions on natives of the Caucasus living in Russia. As the last figure shows, the problem is not limited to Jews, but affects people from the Caucasus and Asian immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds.

    27/1/2005- Russia's President Vladimir Putin has told an international forum entitled Let My People Live, underway in Krakow that the Russian government will always oppose any manifestations of anti-Semitism. "We'll do this using the force of law and public opinion," he said. As the forum is timed for the 60th anniversary of liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, Putin said: "We must remember the bitter lessons of the past and must do everything in our power to rule out a repetition of those experiences in the future". "Auschwitz became a bloody reality of Nazi crimes, since the Nazis declared Jews a second-rate nation," Putin said. He indicated that the Holocaust was the tragedy for the Jewish people as well as for the whole mankind. He also said he felt ashamed by acts of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Russia. "We all of us must say together that no one can remain indifferent towards the acts of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racial intolerance," he said at an international forum entitled Let My People Live. "Germany's Federal Chancellor said recently he felt ashamed by his country's past, but the past is gone now anyway, while we must feel ashamed by what is happening today," Putin said. "Even in Russia, the country that did the most to defeat Nazism and liberate the Jews we can often see the manifestations of that disease [anti-Semitism]," Putin said. "We are ashamed by them," he indicated.

    Putin called for fighting together with terrorism. "Our civilization is facing other and no less dangerous threats, but I'd like to warn the civilization that we'll be able to weed the terrorists out only if double standards are dropped," he said. As he reverted to the topic of Auschwitz, Putin said: "Soviet soldiers were the first ones to see the horrors of that camp. They shut down the furnaces in this and other camps forever". "They also liberated the city of Krakow," he said. "About 600,000 Soviet soldiers fell on the frontlines in Poland. They paid their lives for freeing the Jewish people as well as other nations".

    27/1/2005- A memorial soiree marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the Polish town of Oswiecim by the Red Army is to be held at the Central Writers Club here on Thursday. Members of the Diplomatic Corps, public and cultural figures have been invited to take part in the soiree, which has been organised by the Holocaust Foundation under the auspices of the Moscow City Council. The soiree organisers expect that Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, Arkady Mil-Man, Ambassador of Israel to the Russian Federation, Hans-Dietrich von Pletz, German Ambassador in Moscow, and Philip Keogh, director of the Moscow office of UNESCO will attend the memorial function. The programme for the soiree includes the presentation of awards to the winners of the international competition of works by teachers, schoolchildren, and students on the theme of "The Lessons of Holocaust is the Road to Tolerance". The competition involved representatives of 39 regions of Russia. The competition winners, among them people from Blagoveshchensk, Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg, Arkhangelsk, and Vladimir, will be received by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General, in Paris on January 31. The troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front freed the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on January 27, 1945. According to various estimates, from 1.5 million to 2 million prisoners were exterminated at the death camp.

    27/1/2005- The Hungarian people feel the Oswiecim tragedy deeply and "commiserate with those who lost their dear and near there", Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said on Thursday in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest at the function held in connection with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of prisoners of Oswiecim concentration camp by Soviet troops. The premier said the death camp went down in the history of humanity as the embodiment of the evil, violence and death. The Hungarians must do all they can to bar the road to racial hatred and discrimination according to the principle of religion. The Holocaust Memorial Centre has circulated a statement saying that 60 years ago the Soviet army freed the prisoners of Oswiecim concentration camp and saved thousands from extermination. Every third victim at Oswiecim was a Hungarian, the statement says. An exhibition of photographs, books and documents depicting the destiny of those who fell victim to racial hatred opened these days at the Holocaust Centre founded about a year ago. A research centre working there discovers horrible pages of the history of the Holocaust.

    28/1/2005­ Campaigners are calling on Belgium to accept responsibility for its role in sending 30,000 Jews to Nazi death camps. On Thursday afternoon, about a dozen campaigners from an association for the restitution of stolen Jewish belongings protested outside the Defence Ministry. They were calling for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the role of the Belgian state in deporting Jewish people to Auschwitz. "We're asking the Belgian state to recognise its responsibilities and to restore goods stolen from Jewish people on Belgian soil," said protester Eric Picard. "It's important to remember that 30,000 of the individuals who were murdered were deported from Belgian soil and that the Belgian authorities contributed to make the deportations possible." Picard said the Belgian authorities compiled a register of Jewish citizens and ordered civil servants to create a file for each and every Jewish person over 15 years old. The authorities then assembled the files of every commune and handed them over to the Nazis. "In this way the Nazis were able to ring at the right doors to arrest people, to drive them to Malines and then to kill them at Auschwitz," said Picard. Picard wants belongings stolen from Belgian Jews by the Nazis restored or compensation given to the individuals. He said a commission had finally tracked down the profits which the State had put in banks or insurance schemes and the booty was now being held by the National Bank of Belgium. He said a commission was supposed to be returning the money to relatives, but in practice Jewish descendants were being reimbursed in a "derisory" way. And he said it was wrong that Jewish individuals were being pitted against Jewish organisations since left-over funds would go to them. Picard's members want to see Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt admit Belgium's role in Auschwitz in the same way that Jacques Chirac has done for France. On Thursday, Defence Ministry representative Michel Jaupart met the Jewish delegation, promising to examine their demands. The Jewish association president Betty Schaffel said she hoped the Belgian government would change laws which her members criticise. However, Jaupart argued that the Belgian authorities had applied laws on war victims to cases involving the Jewish community.

    Vlaams Belang MEPs shun Auschwitz resolution
    The three members of the European Parliament from Belgium's extreme right Vlaams Belang party abstained from Thursday's vote commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The EU's legislative body adopted a resolution condemning the concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis as "among the most shameful and painful pages of the history of our continent." It goes on to express concern about Jews in Europe experiencing a "heightened sense of security" due to anti-Semitism and calls for recognising the Holocaust formally across Europe every day on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The resolution was adopted by 617 votes to 0 with 10 abstentions, including the trio of Vlaams Belang deputies. Frank Vanhecke, the party's president, said he feared that the resolution would be used against parties who "fight for European values and European peoples," Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure reported.
    ©Expatica News

    27/1/2005- French President Jacques Chirac said at the Auschwitz commemoration Thursday that his country's wartime deportation to Nazi death camps of 80,000 people, most of them Jewish, was a "more than painful" memory because France itself bore some of the responsibility for it. Chirac became in 1995 the first president to acknowledge that the French nation shared guilt with Nazi Germany for the persecution of the Jews. French officials and police were largely responsible for identifying and rounding up the deportees, including about 77,000 Jews. "Your memory of the world that was, is for France more than painful," Chirac said in addressing all Jews caught up in the "criminal madness of the Nazis." "It is (for France) a guilty conscience. It bears the weight of responsibility." "Yes, we know and we will never forget," said Chirac, who has angrily attacked recent anti-Semitic attacks in France largely blamed on young Muslims expressing fury at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "We will never give up our idea of mankind and its dignity." Chirac, who inaugurated an expanded Holocaust memorial in Paris earlier this week, which includes a wall of names of those deported, again urged French teachers to make school-children aware of the Holocaust "so that this memory is never erased." Most of the Jews deported from France, including many who had sought refuge in the country from Eastern Europe, were sent to a transit camp at Drancy, just outside Paris, from where they were loaded on trains and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only about 2,500 returned.

    France's official role in persecuting the Jews was detailed during the 1998 trial and condemnation of Maurice Papon, a senior official responsible for the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux. Papon, then 87, received a 10-year jail sentence but was released in 2002 on medical grounds. Chirac visited the railway platform where the Jews arrived and were immediately sent either to the gas chambers or to labor battalions. The platform and rails, with two wooden wagons, have been restored by the Association of Sons and Daughters of Jewish deportees in France. The president also inaugurated an exhibition in the "French pavilion" -- once the infamous camp hospital -- in memory of the about 69,000 Jews and about 3,000 members of the anti-Nazi resistance deported from France to Auschwitz. Chirac said he wanted to voice three aims -- "the desire to witness and transmit, the desire to honour and the desire to act." The exhibition "brings across the reality of the deportation" through the stories of individuals, and "honors the memory of all the deported who died tragically in this place of suffering and extermination," he added. The exhibition illustrates the fate of French deportees through five personal stories, among them that of a couple that had fled from pogroms in Russia to France; and an Austrian-born boy brought to France after Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and who died at the age of eight in an Auschwitz gas chamber. Chirac won praise from Israel and Jewish organisations after his election in 1995 when he acknowledged the country's guilt in cooperating with the German extermination programme -- distancing himself from his predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, who sought to make a distinction between France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime and the French nation. A member of the French delegation, the Polish-born writer Marek Halter, said he was "torn and confused" by his first visit to the camp, and on seeing the buffet lunch set out for the delegates asked, "Can one eat zakuskis (hors d'oeuvres) at Auschwitz?"
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    13/1/2005- The French government last night threatened to prosecute the outspoken far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen after he declared in an interview that the Nazi occupation of France during the second world war had not been "particularly inhumane". In an interview given to an extremist rightwing paper, Rivarol, on the eve of Europe-wide ceremonies to mark the liberation of Auschwitz, Mr Le Pen made light of the tragic consequences of the German invasion of France. "In France, at least, the German occupation was not particularly inhumane, even if there were a few blunders," he was quoted as saying by the newspaper. He made no mention of the 76,000 Jews who were deported from France to concentration camps during the occupation, of whom only 2,500 survived. CRIF, an umbrella organisation for a number of French Jewish groups, said the remarks were shocking. "These comments taint the memory of all victims of Nazism - deportees and resistants, and the entire French population, which was subjected for more than four years to the most atrocious of occupations and humiliations," the group said in a statement. In the same interview, timed to coincide with the start of commemorations to mark the end of the second world war, Mr Le Pen described the Gestapo as a police force which had been there to protect the French nation. Former members of the French resistance will be equally distressed by his remarks, which gloss over the fact that thousands were killed or deported by the Gestapo. "It's not only the European Union and globalisation we have to free our country of. It's also the lies about its history, lies that are protected by exceptional measures," Mr Le Pen was quoted as saying.

    France's justice minister, Dominique Perben, last night asked the Paris prosecutor's office to open a preliminary inquiry into the remarks immediately. "I am amazed by the offence which Mr Le Pen is causing to the victims, to their families, to former fighters, to the deported, to everyone who suffered during this black period of our history," he said. "These comments are unacceptable, and Mr Le Pen must explain himself in court." Although he has toned down his racist rhetoric in recent years, Mr Le Pen is renowned for his extremist positions, and is infamous for having declared in 1987 that the Nazi gas chambers were "a detail" of history. He has been convicted of racism or anti-semitism at least six times. France was startled in 2002 when Mr Le Pen beat the socialist leader for a one-on-one runoff against President Jacques Chirac, after mounting a powerful anti-immigration and anti-European campaign. Shocked that a rightwing extremist had managed to secure a substantial share of the vote in the first round of the elections, mainstream French voters of all political persuasions rallied around President Chirac in the second round, giving him 82% of the vote. France's junior minister for war veterans, Hamlaoui Mekachera, said he had read Mr Le Pen's comments with astonishment. Richard Serero, the director-general of France's Licra anti-racism league, said: "These comments are shabby." It was pointed out that the Gestapo had been "declared a criminal organisation at Nuremberg". French prosecutors have already opened a judicial investigation into comments made by Mr Le Pen's second-in-command, Bruno Gollnisch. Last year Mr Gollnisch questioned whether the Nazis had in fact used gas chambers in the Holocaust.
    ©The Guardian

    Oskar Gröning was at his local philately club when a fellow stamp collector cast doubts on the Holocaust. Gröning knew he was wrong - because 50 years earlier he had served at Auschwitz. Laurence Rees on what happened when the ex-SS soldier decided to finally confront his past

    10/1/2005- After the war, Oskar Gröning took up a hobby. He worked as a manager in a glass factory near Hamburg, but in his own time he became a keen stamp collector. It was at a meeting of his local philately club, in the late 1980s, that Gröning found himself chatting to a man about politics. "Isn't it terrible," said the man, "that the government says it's illegal to say anything against the killing of millions of Jews in Auschwitz?" He went on to explain to Gröning how it was "inconceivable" for so many bodies to have been burned. Gröning said nothing to contradict these statements. But the attempt to deny the reality of Auschwitz, the site of the largest mass murder in history, upset him and made him angry. He obtained one of the Holocaust deniers' pamphlets that his fellow stamp collector had recommended, wrote an ironic commentary on it, and posted it to the man from the philately club. Suddenly, he started to get phone calls from strangers who disputed his view. It turned out that his denunciation of the Holocaust deniers' case had been printed in a neo-Nazi magazine. The calls and letters he received "were all from people who tried to prove that Auschwitz was a huge mistake, a big hallucination, because it hadn't happened". But Gröning knew very well it had happened - for he was posted to Auschwitz in September 1942, as a 22-year-old member of the SS. Almost immediately he witnessed the arrival of Jews at the camp. "I was standing at the ramp," he says, "and my task was to be part of the group supervising the luggage from an incoming transport." He watched while SS doctors first separated men from women and children, and then selected who was fit to work and who would be gassed immediately. "Sick people were lifted on to lorries. Red Cross lorries - they [the SS] always tried to create the impression that people had nothing to fear." Gröning estimates that 80-90% of those on the first transport he witnessed were selected to be murdered at once. Later, he witnessed the burning of bodies: "This comrade said, 'Come with me, I'll show you.' I was so shocked that I stood at a distance. The fire was flickering up and the kapo [a prisoner in charge of work details] there told me afterwards details of the burning. And it was terribly disgusting - horrendous. He made fun of the fact that when the bodies started burning they obviously developed gases from the lungs and these bodies seemed to jump up, and the sex parts of the men suddenly became erect in a way that he found laughable." Gröning was upset by the sights he had seen and went to his boss, an SS lieutenant, and put in a request for a transfer to a front-line unit. "He listened to me and said: 'My dear Gröning, what do you want to do against it? We're all in the same boat. We've given an obligation to accept this - not to even think about it.'" With the words of his superior ringing in his ears, and his transfer request turned down, Gröning returned to work. He had sworn an oath of loyalty; he believed the Jews were Germany's enemy; and he knew that he could manipulate his life at the camp to avoid encountering the worst of the horror. So he stayed.

    Gröning then discovered there were "positive" aspects of working at Auschwitz: "I have to say that many who worked there weren't dull, they were intelligent." When he eventually left the camp, he went with some regrets. "I'd left a circle of friends who I'd got familiar with, I'd got fond of, and that was very difficult. Apart from the fact that there are pigs who fulfil their personal drives - there are such people - the special situation at Auschwitz led to friendships which, I still say today, I think back on with joy." To meet Gröning today, and listen to his attempt to explain his time at Auschwitz, is a strange experience. In appearance, he is indistinguishable from countless other elderly, prosperous Germans. He wears good clothes, eats solid German food and espouses conventional right-of-centre political views. Now in his 80s, he talks almost as if there was another Oskar Gröning who worked at Auschwitz 60 years ago - he can be surprisingly critical of his younger self. The essential, almost frightening, point about him is that he is one of the least exceptional human beings you are ever likely to meet. He is no insane SS monster, but a former bank clerk who happened, because of his own choices and historical circumstance, to find himself working in one of the most infamous places in history. Gröning joined the Hitler Youth when the Nazis came to power in 1933. He took part in the burning of books written by Jews and "degenerates". He believed he was helping rid Germany of alien cultures. At 17, he began a traineeship as a bank clerk. Just months later war was declared. Gröning wanted to join an "elite" unit of the German army so went to a hotel where the Waffen SS was recruiting and joined up. After a couple of years of clerical work for the SS, he was posted to Auschwitz. On arrival, Gröning was quizzed by senior officers about his background before the war.

    "We had to say what we'd been doing, what kind of job, what level of education," he recalls. "I said that I was a bank clerk and that I wanted to work in administration and one of the officers said, 'Oh, I can use someone like that.'" As Gröning began his task of counting the prisoners' money, he was told that valuables taken from Jews would not be returned. When he asked why, his colleagues replied: "Well, don't you know? That's the way it is here. Jewish transports arrive, and as far as they're not able to work, they're got rid of." Until that moment, Gröning had thought Auschwitz functioned as a "normal" concentration camp. "It was a shock that you cannot take in at the first moment," he says. But once he had been at Auschwitz for several months, the work, he says, had become "routine". "The propaganda had for us such an effect that you assumed that to exterminate them was basically something that happened in war. And, to that extent, a feeling of sympathy or empathy didn't come up." Gröning's job was to sort the various currencies taken from the new arrivals and send it to Berlin. In his office, he was insulated from the brutality. The only reminder that different nationalities were coming to the camp was the variety of currencies that crossed Gröning's desk - and the array of alcohol taken from the new arrivals. "When there was a lot of ouzo," he says, "it could only come from Greece - otherwise there was no reason for us to distinguish where they came from. We drank a lot of vodka. We didn't get drunk every day - but it did happen. We'd go to bed drunk, and if someone was too lazy to turn off the light they'd shoot at it - nobody said anything."

    In 1944, Gröning's application for a transfer to the front line was finally granted and he joined an SS unit in the Ardennes. He was wounded in fighting before he and his comrades eventually gave themselves up to the British in June 1945. They were handed a questionnaire and Gröning realised that "involvement in the concentration camp of Auschwitz would have a negative response", so he put down that he had worked for the SS economic and administration office in Berlin. "The victor's always right, and we knew that the things that happened there [in Auschwitz] did not always comply with human rights," he observes, seemingly oblivious to how such understatement might seem grotesque. Along with his SS comrades, Gröning was imprisoned in a former Nazi concentration camp: "It was not very pleasant - that was revenge against the guilty." But life improved when he was shipped to England in 1946 where, as a forced labourer, he had "a very comfortable life". He went back to Germany in 1948. Shortly after his return, he was sitting at the dinner table with his parents-in-law and "they made a silly remark about Auschwitz", implying that he was a "potential or real murderer". "I exploded!" says Gröning. "I banged my fist on the table and said, 'This word and this connection are never, ever, to be mentioned again in my presence, otherwise I'll move out!' I was quite loud, and this was respected and it was never mentioned again." Thus did the Gröning family settle down to its postwar future, enjoying the fruits of the German "economic miracle". Gröning rose through the management at the glass factory, becoming head of personnel. Before retirement, he was appointed an honorary judge of industrial tribunal cases. Even today, he believes that the experience he gained in the SS and Hitler Youth helped his career. "From the age of 12 onwards I learnt about discipline," he says. When his past was eventually uncovered (he never made any attempt to change his name or hide), the German prosecutors did not press charges against him. This was, in fact, typical. Gröning's experience illustrates how it is possible to have been a member of the SS, worked at Auschwitz, witnessed the extermination process, contributed to the Final Solution, and still not be thought "guilty" by the postwar West German state. Of the 6,500 members of the SS who worked at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945 and are thought to have survived the war, only about 750 were prosecuted, the vast majority by the Poles.

    Throughout his life, Gröning believes he did what he thought was right; it's just that what was "right" then, he says, turns out not to be "right" today. It was not until his philatelic encounter with the Holocaust deniers that he decided to speak openly about his time at the death camp. Once he had retired and knew he would not be prosecuted by the German authorities, he decided he had nothing to lose by confronting his past. Decades after his time at Auschwitz, Gröning finally broke rank.

    "I would like you to believe me," he says. "I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematorium. I saw the open fires. I was on the ramp when the selections took place. I would like you to believe that these atrocities happened, because I was there."
    ©The Guardian

    On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Cormac Mac Ruairi looks at Camp Westerbork - the last stop for 102,000 Jews en route from the Netherlands to the Nazi death camps.

    31/1/2005- 60 years on Westerbork is a peaceful park. Most of its buildings have been torn down and grass has grown where the huts used to stand. The grass covers a terrible reality. A museum documents the stories of the inmates, guards and train drivers who were part of the Nazi murder machine during the Second World War. Here Anne Frank and thousands of other Jews waited for transports to take them from the Netherlands to the death camps in the East. The enormity of the crime Westerbork played such a crucial role in was brought home in late January in the lead up to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet soldiers. Holocaust survivors ­ among the handful who are left ­ braved freezing weather to take part in the reading aloud of the names of the 102,000 Jews who were transported from Holland to their deaths. Underlining the huge scale of the genocide, the naming ceremony runs for 112 hours, ending on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January. "It is important that I am here for all those who were deported to the death camps. I am a survivor and I want to be here, to feel what they must have felt," Truus Stern, 79, said. Between 1942 and 1944, 93 trains deported more than a 100,000 Dutch Jews and Romany. Sixty-eight of those trains went to Auschwitz. The others went to Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt, AFP reported. There were 140,000 Jews in Holland before the war, of which 102,000 were murdered by the Nazis. Aside from Anne Frank, a second Jewish girl who kept a diary of her earlier imprisonment passed through Westerbork on the way to her death.

    Ironically, Westerbork was established not by the Nazis but the Dutch government. In the late 1930s, the government in The Hague was worried about the influence thousands of Jewish refugees who had fled to Holland would have in the cities and towns. Many German Jews caught by the authorities had been sent back to Germany, but still more came. The government decided therefore to house Jewish refugees who entered the country illegally in a new compound built on marsh land at a 'safe' distance from the local town of Westerbork in Drenthe in 1939. Hundreds of refugees were living in the camp by the time the German Army invaded on 10 May 1940. The inmates had limited freedom until 1942 when the facility officially became a transit camp. On July 1, 1942, the German Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) took over control. The new commander, Erich Deppner, caused a riot when organising the first transport. He included children without their parents and women who happened to be standing in line for admittance to make up his quota of 1,000 deportees. In October, Obersturmfuhrer Albert Konrad Gemmeker took command of the camp and oversaw the systematic deportation of 100,000 Jews, 55,000 of whom went to Auschwitz, according to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. On the 60th anniversary it is important to bear in mind that much of the dirty work was not done directly by the Germans. Gemmeker, who was jailed for 10 years after the war, left the day-to-day running of the camp in the hands of some of the inmates. A subdivision of the Jewish police (Judischer Ordnungsdienst) arranged the transports and maintained order. Many Jews, like Anne Frank, ended up in the camp because they were betrayed by Dutch people. The victims can't be brought back from Auschwitz and the other death camps, but they can at least be remembered on 27 January in the hope the same will never happen again. One person attending the reading of the names summed up the huge loss by saying: "that is the first time I have heard my family's names read aloud".
    ©Expatica News

    READING 102,000 NAMES(Netherlands)
    By Suzette Bronkhorst
    Between 1942 and 1945 the German occupying power arrested and deported 107,000 Dutch Jews and foreign Jewish refugees from the Netherlands. Only about 5000 of them survived the horror of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Sobibor, Theresienstadt, and all other extermination camps.
    The Dutch Auschwitz Committee and the Memorial Center Camp Westerbork took the initiative for a special project: reading the names of all murdered Jews, Sinti and Roma who do not have their own grave. The organizers had to find 700 people to read the 102.000 names continuously for 112 hours. About 100 volunteers made sure everything ran smoothly from 3 different locations. 18 month were spend preparing for the project...

    Impressive statistics that do not tell anything about the reality of "Reading 102,000 names'. It started in Amsterdam in the 'Hollandsche Schouwburg', (the Dutch Theatre) which was used during the war as a deportation centre for Jews. Rabbi Sonny Herman read the first 10 names, followed by the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, and then actor Jeroen Krabbe and news presenter Marga van Praag continued while walking from the Hollandse Schouwburg to the Resistance museum around the corner. Aaltje van Aa, 23 years - Jacob van Aa, 64 years - Jacob van Aa, 2 month - Rachel van Aa, 18 years. Not 102,000 names but an unique human being 102,000 times. The whole 112 hours was webcasted live on the Internet by Magenta Foundation, also working from the several locations in the country. "It went on an on and on in my head" says one of their cameramen/technicians. "After each long shift, I was laying in my bed and the names kept on rolling, like a mantra. It was very important for me to be part of this, but mentally it was extremely exhausting. We had to stay cool and collected and do our work, which was often difficult. It is hard not to break down when you hear things like 'Samuel Hirsch - 4 days' or 'Rachel Cohen - 5 years'. I'm glad we've done it but I'm also very glad it is over!".

    After more than 2 days in Amsterdam, the 'names reading' continued in Westerbork, at the site of the former 'transit-camp' for Jews, Roma and Sinti on their way to the extermination camps. These days Camp Westerbork, located in the north of the Netherlands close to the City of Assen, is a memorial centre but on the site of the actual camp nothing is left from the days it was in operation. The old Camp site is now the domain of the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope - row after row of enormous dishes. The names were read in a big tent in the shadow of those dishes and you could not escape the strange coalescence of that; radio Telecopes listening for signals from stars far way...

    It was important to do this - to give the victims their name and identity back, to lift them up from the nameless horrific figure of 6 million so they can be remembered - forever.
    ©I CARE News

    After the horrors of Auschwitz were revealed, it took years for attitudes to change
    By Robert Matas

    28/1/2005- The world shuddered when the efficient, bureaucratic bestiality of Nazi Germany in the Second World War became known. Yet despite the horrors of the death camps, Canada had little beyond sympathy for Jewish survivors at the end of the war. As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Holocaust scholars say public awareness after the war of the Nazi atrocities did not soften hostile attitudes in Canada toward Jews. The federal government of the 1940s was slow to change its highly restrictive pre-war immigration laws to accommodate Jewish refugees, acting in step with the hardened attitudes of many Canadians who were reluctant to welcome Jewish survivors into the country. In May of 1945, George P. Vanier told CBC listeners about "the emaciated, bruised and blood-stained bodies" at Buchenwald, a Nazi camp in Germany. Mr. Vanier, who went on to be governor-general from 1959 to 1967, was ambassador to France at that time. "In the improvised hospitals were hundreds of men, some with running sores, their bodies so devoid of flesh that they could not lie for long in one position," he said. "Some who were able to stand were little more than skin and bones. One marvelled how the knee and ankle joints held together. "We saw several hundred children, most of them Polish Jews. Some had been in prison camps for years . . . not one, so far as I know, had any idea of where his parents were. In view of the barbarous treatment inflicted on Poles and Jews by the Germans, it is probable that all are dead," Mr. Vanier said. Despite such accounts, a Gallop poll the next year found that many Canadians were more willing to allow Germans to immigrate to Canada than Jews.

    Canada Responds to the Holocaust 1944-1945, a teaching aide on CD-ROM released yesterday by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, sets out some of the results of that poll. The material, put together by historian Richard Menkis and co-author Ronnie Tessler, also reviews the response of Canadian soldiers, Canadian journalists and war artists to the Holocaust. The Gallup poll released in October, 1946, asked the following question: If Canada was to allow more immigration, are there any nationalities you would like to keep out? The results showed that 60 per cent of Canadians were against allowing immigration of Japanese, 49 per cent did not want Jewish immigration, and 34 per cent did not want German immigration. "It was as if the Holocaust had almost no impact in changing the hardened attitudes of Canadians," said historian Franklin Bialystok, who has published articles on the Holocaust. "It was, like, 'Okay, the tragedy took place, too bad. But I still do not want to let these people in.' " In a searing condemnation of Canadian government policy -- in a letter dated Dec. 12, 1947 -- maverick Ontario politician J. B. Salsberg described the hostility of Canadian immigration officials to Jewish survivors, based on a three-week visit to displaced persons camps in Germany. "Some of the actions of the so-called security officers are positively astounding," Mr. Salsberg wrote. "For example, they screened and approved for security reasons about a dozen men who were stopped by the doctor before boarding the ship because the doctor discovered the SS mark tattooed under their arm pits. [SS were initials of the Schutzstaffel, the elite Nazi corps commanded by Heinrich Himmler, the top organizer of the mass murder of Jews.] On the other hand, a Canadian security officer questioned a Jewish child: 'What were your parents doing in Auschwitz -- and where did you get the money to come from Auschwitz here?' " Mr. Salsberg wrote.

    Historian Harold Troper said many Canadians felt unease about Jews after the war and many Canadians familiar with reports of the concentration camps were full of sympathy for the victims. "But that did not mean you wanted them living next door to you," Mr. Troper said. As the war effort wound down, the Canadian government was more concerned about unemployment than refugees, the historians said. Attitudes, and government immigration policies, gradually changed in the late 1940s, as the economy began to boom and manufacturers began looking for workers.
    ©Globe and Mail

    27/1/2005- World leaders, survivors and Russian liberators gathered in Poland yesterday to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. Here is what they said:

  • French President Jacques Chirac
    "Evil is embodied in this place, tearing at our hearts and burning our consciences for eternity."

  • Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Auschwitz prisoner no. 4427 and former Polish foreign minister
    "The question we ask ourselves and the world is how much of the truth about the horrible experiences of that totalitarian regime we managed to pass down to the younger generations. Much of it, I believe, but not enough."

  • Pope John Paul in a letter
    "This anniversary calls us to ponder once again the drama which took place there, the final, tragic outcome of a program of hatred. In these days we must remember the millions of persons who, through no fault of their own, were forced to endure inhuman suffering and extermination in the gas chambers and ovens. I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis (mystery of evil)."

  • Anatoly Shapiro, Jewish-born Red Army commander whose troops first entered Auschwitz
    "I want to say to all people around the world - this should not happen again. I saw the faces of the people we liberated - they went through hell."

  • Israeli President Moshe Katsav
    "The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people, it is a failure of humanity as a whole. The Allies had concentrated a huge force in the fight against the Germans and we are very grateful to the Allies. We will carry that gratitude forever. But the allies did not do enough to stop the Holocaust. ... We fear anti-Semitism. We fear Holocaust denial, we fear a distorted approach by the youth of Europe. We call upon the European Union - do not let Nazism dwell in the imaginations of the young generations as a `horror show,' so to speak."

  • U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney
    "This story of the camp reminds us that evil is real, must be called by its name and must be confronted."

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin
    "We unfortunately still see signs of anti-Semitism and I'm also ashamed of that. Russia will struggle against them. ... We shall not only remember the past but also be aware of all the threats of the modern world. Terrorism is among them and it is no less dangerous and cunning than fascism. And it is equally cruel: It has already claimed thousands of lives."

  • Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine, whose father was imprisoned at Auschwitz and survived
    "My father was a wounded soldier and he was in Auschwitz. He had a tattoo 11367 on his chest. I came here with my children and I hope I will come here with my grandchildren. This is a sacred place for me and my family. ... There will never again be a Jewish question in my country. The tragedy of the past will never be repeated on the soil of Ukraine."

  • Elie Wiesel, writer and Auschwitz survivor
    "I don't believe in collective guilt, but the guilty should be remembered for their guilt. How can you go away with the knowledge you gathered here and remain the same? If you will be the same after this, we will be lost."

  • Avner Shalev, chairman of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
    "This ceremony is needed now because a new wave of anti-Semitism is becoming more and more dangerous to Jews and to democracy and to democratic society."

  • Kazimierz Orlowski, 84-year-old former prisoner
    "The snow was falling like today, we were dressed in stripes and some of us had bare feet. These were horrible times."

  • Simone Weil, French intellectual and camp survivor
    "And yet, the desire of all of us that this `should never happen again' has not come true. There have since occured other cases of genocide."

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair
    "We remember above all that the Holocaust did not start with a concentration camp. It started with a brick through the shop window of a Jewish business, the desecration of a synagogue, the shout of racist abuse on the street."

    27/1/2005- Former European Parliament president Simone Veil, a survivor of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, on Thursday made an emotional appeal here for world unity against racism and anti-Semitism as she marked the liberation 60 years ago of the camp where more than a million of her fellow inmates died. "Today, 60 years after, a new commitment must be made so that men unite at least to fight against hatred of the other, against anti-Semitism, against racism, against intolerance," the former French health minister said at the anniversary ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in southern Poland. Testifying on behalf of the former Jewish inmates, she noted that "European countries which twice dragged the whole world into murderous folly, have managed to overcome their old demons." "It's here, where absolute evil was perpetrated, that the will must resurface for a fraternal world, a world based on respect of man and his dignity." "The wish we all have so often expressed for 'never again' has not been heeded since other genocides have been perpetrated," Veil said. Veil called for vigilance to defend "not only against the forces threatening nature but even more so against the folly of men." "We, the last survivors, have the right and even the duty to warn you and to urge you to ensure that the 'never again' of our comrades become reality." Earlier the former French minister, overcome with emotion, spoke of the "million murdered Jewish children". "I still weep when I think about them and I will never be able to forget them," she added.
    ©Expatica News

    Tomas Radil was thirteen and a half when he was sent to Auschwitz with his family, after they were deported from their home town of Parkany - now Sturovo in Slovakia - in the spring of 1944. Most of his relatives were murdered, only his father survived. He was one of several thousand inmates who witnessed the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on January 27th, 1945. A retired psychologist and neurologist, Professor Radil shared with Rob Cameron some of his memories of Auschwitz and the camp's liberation.

    1/2/2005- "I'll just recall one occasion, there were [terrible] things happening all the time. This is just an illustration: There was a prisoner who somehow lost his nerves. The SS officer told him for reason 'take off your glasses'. And he refused. He refused to obey the authority of the SS, which had to be absolute. There was a gate, to some sort of store at the railroad station at Auschwitz. [The SS officer] pulled the prisoner behind that door, behind that big gate. We didn't see how he did it. I just saw that before doing it he simply drew his gun. We saw nothing, it was like in a movie. It's like when you watch a killing and they don't show you the brutality. So all I saw was how his blood was pouring out underneath the gate, and how an Alsatian - a German shepherd dog - went up to it, sniffing and licking the blood of the poor guy who had been killed. All the time something like that. I was listening all the time. You could hear the sound of the guns getting louder, you could hear the war coming closer. So I was judging, I remember that - even though I was a little boy - I could tell they were approaching extremely fast."

    This was around January 27th, when Auschwitz was liberated.
    "No, it was before, days before. The first wave of prisoners who were capable of working - so they could walk - they left about eight days before the Russians came in, I don't remember exactly when. After the Germans left, some sort of international organisation, a secret one, took over. So there was no chaos. They gave some tasks to some people, and because I was among the young ones who could move..."

    Sorry - just to get this straight - there was a gap between when the Germans left and when the Russians arrived, and during that time the camp was run by someone else?
    "Yes, it was some sort of organisation of the prisoners."

    What organisation?
    "Who knows? I did not know. I even don't know today. Those people did not ask for publicity."

    What do you remember of January 27th, when the Russians arrived?
    "The 27th was just a usual day. They sent me and another boy to the gate, to watch what was happening outside the camp. There was no information. And the instruction was - there are two of you. One should watch all the time, and if necessary the second will run as a messenger to some other place and tell people what's happening outside. And that was in the first building to the left past the main gate of Auschwitz main camp - Arbeit Macht Frei, you know. And on the left, the first building was the building of the orchestra. There used to be an orchestra of the camp, so camp music was playing as all those commanders were marching. It was part of the ritual. OK, so we were just playing like little boys with those instruments. And I'm watching from the window - snow everywhere, very flat - and I see a German soldier, running I would say metaphorically towards the West. He was pulling his rifle after him. Carrying a rifle is not easy, so he was pulling the rifle. And I even remember that the belt of that rifle was not made of leather, but some sort of textile imitation. I was even sorry for him in a sense. Not very deeply, but...that was like a symbol of the breakdown of the Third Reich."

    So you knew then that the end was coming.
    "That was the end. I saw he was running, only one guy. He wasn't part of any type of organised mass movement which is typical for an army: he was just running in order to save his bloody life. That was all. After an hour or so the Russians came in with tanks, you know very fast-moving troops, with some horses and some sort of carriages with horses, and the great majority very young boys. They came in and said, OK, here we are. And symbolically they ran their tanks through the fences, which was a manifestation - it is over now."

    What did you feel then?
    "I felt a very fast, very short lasting feeling of happiness. No-one knew at that time, but that is a consequence of endogenic opioids being liberated in your body. You are happy, very happy, but that lasts for a very short period only. You know, after a very short time everyone - almost everyone - had this strange, extremely sad feeling, very depressive, because the immediate goal broke down. The goal was to survive - OK, now we have survived, what next? We knew almost everyone had been killed. Now a new goal came, which was much more complicated to adapt to, and that was - what are we going to do?"

    What did you do?
    "Basically the choice was not so difficult for me, because I was just an adolescent child. I told myself - I'll go home. I thought my father could be alive, and will return from somewhere. I thought also - erroneously, unfortunately - that my mother could return. Maybe someone else will return. I knew that the great majority will not return. And as the whole war moved from the East to the West, I felt that I had to move from the West to the East."

    How do you think Auschwitz changed you as a person?
    "Certainly deeply. The famous money-maker and altruist [George] Soros said in a book that those who survived became in a way very strong people. They are tested. Somehow - at least me - I know in advance what I'm going to do. Nothing is really so serious. One damaging thing is that somehow I did forget, to a great extent, to be afraid. If you're afraid, it helps you, it holds you back and prevents you from getting into dangerous situations. I somehow forgot it. I'm not afraid of anything, which is bad. There's nothing left to be afraid of."

    Now you've seen Auschwitz, there is nothing which could possibly frighten you anymore.
    ©Radio Prague

    By Valeriu Nicolae

    It is the day of remembering the Holocaust and, as usual, there is little or no talk about the Roma Holocaust in the European media. The European Parliament passed a resolution on Holocaust and racism, which includes no specific reference to the Roma Holocaust or the rampant anti-Gypsyism in Europe.

    A researcher into the Roma Holocaust thinks Gobbels' discourse with a small change, the replacement of the word "Jews" with "Gypsies" would be as popular as it was 60 years ago, now, in a Europe struggling with strong but paradoxically still ignored anti-Gypsyism. Before the Holocaust started, in January 1940, 250 Romani children were murdered in Buchenwald, Germany. They were the test subjects for the crystals used in gas chambers. An estimated between 250.000 to 1.000.000 Roma were exterminated during the Holocaust. That arguably puts in percent, Roma as the most affected ethnic group by the nazi killings. Over 90 per cent of Roma population in Austria and Germany was wiped-out by the fascist regimes. Slovakia, Hungary, Romania are the European countries with the largest Roma population in Europe. The first two are part of the European Union, Romania is planned to join the Union in 2007. During the Second World War in Slovakia, Roma were forced into labour camps. Just before the upraising against the German occupation in 1944 at least 1,000 Roma perished in pogroms and mass killings. Vladimir Meciar the ex-prime minister of Slovakia, and still one of the first two most popular politicians in Slovakia spoke in 1993 about the need to curb "the reproduction of socially unadaptable and mentally retarded people." Roma were in his opinion "antisocial, mentally backward, unassimilable and socially unacceptable".

    The same year the Slovak Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Family declared that: "Roma dislike work" In an opinion poll conducted in December 1999 by the Taylor Nelson Sofres Institute[1] 90 per cent of the people asked were not objecting to measures to have Roma living separated from the majority population. The Roma population in Slovakia is estimated to constitute around 10 per cent. On 19th of January 2005 during the Conference "Human Rights and EU Migration Policy " organized by the European Commission in Brussels the newly appointed Slovakian Ambassador to the European Union, Mr. Maroš Šefcovic expressed his view on Slovakian Roma citizens, he considered also "exploiters of the Slovakian welfare system". In 1944 Hungary started deportation of Roma to concentration camps. Tens of thousands of Roma died, some estimates put the number at around 70.000. A recent poll conducted among Hungarian History students discovered that two thirds of those interviewed considered "the majority of gypsies are not decent people", almost half of them believed that Roma do not do anything to integrate into society and almost the same number consider that the growth of the Gypsy population constitutes a threat to society. More than one third consider that Gypsies should be forced to live like other people, the same number think that Roma are genetically determined to crime and 20 per cent openly advocate for a segregation of Roma from society.[2] The widespread anti-Gypsyism was reflected by a national opinion poll from 1995[3] which discovered than 67 per cent of Hungarians believed that Roma are prone to crime by nature. Close to 10 per cent of the Hungarians are of Roma origins and a large number are from mixed families. At least 20.000 Roma died during the forced deportation to Transnistria in Romania. Some estimates put the numbers a lot higher.

    In 2000 a poll[4] discovered that 40,7 per cent of the Romanians would not let Roma live in Romania; given the choice.In a Gallup poll[5] released in September 2003, 82 per cent of the interviewed considered Roma to be criminals. The same poll also revealed that a large majority of the Romanians, namely 78 per cent, do not know or do not believe that the Romanian state was not involved in the extermination of Roma during World War II. Romania as Hungary and Slovakia has about 10 per cent Roma population and a large number of people with mixed ethnic roots. In the special Gypsy camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau 19.000 of the 23.000 Roma were killed. In a 1979 poll of German children aged ten to fourteen, 61.5 per cent agreed on Roma being dishonest. 69.2 per cent believed that Roma make their living out of begging and stealing. In Poland, the occupant German authorities exterminated between 20,000-35,000 either by shooting or in concentration camps. In 2000 a poll[6] found out that 77.1 per cent of the Polish respondents believed Roma as dishonest.

    As a Roma activist, I often talk to people about the situation of European Roma. The last few days I often heard people saying that is the responsibility of Roma to make the Roma Holocaust known as the Jews did. I often hear that is the responsibility of Roma to change in order to combat the persisting widespread anti-Gypsyism and increase their lobbying and advocacy activities to do so. If all these efforts put in justifying racism and xenophobia could be used in combating them, probably Europe would not have to be lobbied to be what it wishes to: "a Union founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights…a society of pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination."[7]

    [1] Slovakia losing patience with Roma, Slovak Spectator, 17.1.2000
    [2] The survey was conducted was by Mária Vásárhelyi. It was based on 500 interviews, of which 37 per cent were conducted in ecclesiastical colleges and 63 per cent in state universities. One third were in the countryside and two thirds in Budapest. Quoted according to Pfeiffer, Karl: Hungary: A story of everyday Nazism, in: Searchlight Magazine, April 2004 [3] Kereny, György 1999: Roma in the Hungarian Media, in: Media Studies Journal, Vol. 13/3, pp. 144 – 145, quoted according to Erjavecm, Karmen/Hrvatin, Sandra B./ Kelbl, Barbara 2000: We about the Roma. Discriminatory Discourse in the Media in Slovenia, Open Society Institute, available here
    [4] Center for Research of Interethnic Relations and Ethnocultural Diversity Center: Ethnobarometer, May-June 2000, Cluj-Napoca 2000, quoted according to ERRC 2001: State of Impunity: Human Rights Abuse of Roma in Romania, Budapest, p. 17
    [5] IPP/Gallup 2003: Intoleranta, discriminare si autoritarism in opinia publica, September 2003
    [6] Zakrzewski, Lech/Stachura, Artur/Wisniewski, Andrzej/Skorupski, Szczepan/Hejduk, Miroslaw 2000: Assimilation of the Roma Community in the Swietokrzyski Region, Know How Fund/UK Embassy, July 2000, p. 17, quoted according to ERRC: The limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989, p. 35
    [7] Article 2 of the European Constitution

    Most people know about the millions of Jews murdered in Hitler's death camps; less is known about the 500,000 Gypsies who also died. Walter Winter is determined that this must change
    By Emma Brockes

    29/11/2004- For many years, Walter Winter did not speak of the events that took place in his life between the ages of 20 and 25. After the war he put his head down and worked: in his family's funfair business and on the business of marriage, to Marion, with whom he raised six children in the corner of north-east Germany where the Winters had lived for as long as he could remember. At 84, he lives there still. "We are tough," he says, referring to his storm-battered family and, more generally, to the race to which it belongs. "We are tough because we have had to be." Herr Winter and his wife live in a flat decorated with reminders of a world that has long since ceased to exist. There is a grandfather clock and a case displaying a china tea-set and, mounted on the wall, a violin surrounded by paintings of Roma scenes of yore: old-fashioned tubular caravans with horses out front and children tumbling over each other on the steps at the back. This way of life was still just about in evidence when Winter grew up, one of nine children, in the years before what he calls "the forgotten Holocaust". In 1943, Winter and two of his siblings were transported to the "Gypsy" camp at Auschwitz. His sister Maria's eight-year-old twin daughters died at the hands of Josef Mengele; Winter's wife, Anna, whom he met in the camp, and their new-born baby died after being transported to Ravensbruck. His brother Erich was sterilised. "They want it to be forgotten," he says. "Ja. There is a tradition of persecuting the Sinti. Always, always." There are not many written accounts of the half-million or so Roma or Sinti - travellers related to them - who died in the camps, because, says Winter, theirs is traditionally an oral not a literary culture. Unlike the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, many of whom came from the educated middle-classes, the Sinti generally made their living on the land. Winter's own family travelled in the caravan doing seasonal farm work and showbusiness. They were talented horsemen and women - Winter himself used to do a circus act, which involved jumping on to the back of a moving horse - and gifted mechanics and electricians. "They didn't weld," he says, "but everything else."

    Even in the 1920s, they would be escorted to the border of each German county by the police. "An example," says Winter, through an interpreter, "was when I was six years old. My parents were having coffee in the morning, on a day we were due to move on. A policeman came to the door of the caravan and told us to leave right away. My mother said, 'We can't leave immediately, the children are having breakfast.' But the policeman didn't want to wait. He took out the baton and my father started to pack up, rapidly. But it wasn't fast enough for the policeman. He first whipped the horses, then he hit my father." These and other scenes are recalled in his book, Winter Time, which has been transcribed by academics from interviews he has given them. It was not a happy experience, not so much for the pain of reliving the memories - although that was difficult enough - but for what Winter sees as the high-handedness of "experts" on the Holocaust. He is suspicious of people who rate education over experience and felt thoroughly patronised by the encounter. There is also some bitterness surrounding the divergent fortunes of the various survivor groups, although Winter voices these tentatively. "This is a terrible discussion," he says, of the hierarchy of pain, of who "owns" the Holocaust. But he feels compelled to point out that, while in most of Europe being openly anti-semitic is taboo, it is quite acceptable to be openly anti-Gypsy, a fact you don't have to look further than Britain's rightwing tabloids to confirm. In 1939, the total population of Roma and Sinti in Germany and its occupied territories is estimated to have been just under a million. They spoke Romani, a language based on Sanskrit. In 1938 they were the subject of a circular by Heinrich Himmler entitled Combating the Gypsy Nuisance, in which all Sinti above the age of six were divided into three groups: Gypsies, part-Gypsies, and nomadic persons behaving as Gypsies. Attempts to exterminate them were less systematic than those directed at the Jewish population - they were classified as lower-priority enemies - but they were none the less identified in public by black triangles (for "asocials"), green patches ("criminals") or the letter Z (for Zigeuner - Gypsy) and transported in large numbers to the death camps. The Winter family was settled at this time in the Wittmund region of north-east Germany, where they owned a house and where the children went to school, lodging with a teacher when their parents took to the road. They were, says Winter, "popular and successful". Several of his brothers played in the German national football squad, until they were kicked out in 1933 for being "non-Aryan". Similarly Winter was thrown out of the German navy, to the embarrassment of his peers, where he was on track for a commission. The training would save him more than once in the camps, when the SS responded to his comportment as a professional soldier. By the mid-1930s, Winter's father was advising his family not to speak their language in public. Stories went around of Romani-speaking infiltrators, employed to befriend Sinti communities and betray them to the authorities. They were also identifiable by their names. "Most Sinti are Catholics," says Winter. "Since the camp, I don't want anything to do with the church. The priests opened the marriage licence books and showed the SS which names were Sinti." There was overlap between Jewish and Sinti names; Weiss, Rosenberg, Bamberger were common to both communities. These methods of denouncement left a mark on the Sinti which has yet to disappear. In Sinti-populated regions of Germany, there is a move to put lessons in Romani on the curriculum, but Winter's generation are against it. "If people can speak our language, they can identify us," he says darkly. "Why does anyone else want to learn it?"

    When his brother and sister were picked up by the police, they were living in a town some distance from their parents. Winter went to find out what happened and was himself arrested. The rest of his family escaped imprisonment thanks to the protection of the head of their regional government, who had been at school with Winter's mother. (Seven of his eight siblings are still alive, one of them a millionaire from having patented a funfair ride.) Winter and his siblings, plus two further cousins, were interned in the family camp in Auschwitz. This is a subject that arises during those terrible competitions over who suffered the most: the relative merits of being interned with, as opposed to separate from, one's family. Winter says, "Seeing family suffer could be even harder than being separated from them. But the comparisons are useless. It wasn't worse for one group or another. We had the same pain." The Sinti had a reputation in the camps, he says. They were tough and courageous, and from long experience of odd-jobbing, could turn their hands to anything. They were also, he says, stunningly naive. On one occasion, Winter's brother hit a guard over the head with a spade handle when he tried to rape a woman from his block; incredibly, he wasn't executed. And Winter himself confronted Mengele over the starvation rations being issued to the camp children. Mengele was temporarily charmed by his chutzpah and marginally increased the rations; but it did not save Winter's nieces. He wakes up sometimes and thinks he is still in the camp. It has been hard on his wife, Marion, this compulsion of Winter's to talk about what happened. She is 20 years younger than him, half-Sinti, half-Jewish, and, when I meet her husband, she is in hospital after a stroke. Winter tells me ruefully he is learning to cook for himself. He rolls up his sleeve in what I think is a gesture of domesticity. "Now," he says, extending his arm, "I will show you my number."

    In the years after the war, unlike many Jewish survivors, the Winters went back to the area of Germany they had lived in before. So did most Sinti survivors. You have to understand, he says, they were not sophisticated people; they didn't speak English; the idea of emigrating to America was just too wild to countenance. So they picked up their lives as best they could. Almost immediately on their return, they were accused by their neighbours of "stealing water". Discrimination was no better than before the war, and, says Winter, the British soldiers stationed in Hamburg totally overlooked it. So it has pretty much continued over the years. In the 1980s, Winter testified in a war crimes trial against Ernst Konig, an officer in the gypsy camp at Auschwitz, who committed suicide after being sentenced to life imprisonment. Winter was shushed for his angry outbursts during the trial. "The judge said, 'Be quiet, we want a fair trial'. I said, 'And who treated us fairly?'" These days, he says, "the neo-Nazis are more accepted than the Sinti in Germany". He is furious with Chancellor Schröder for, earlier this year, opening an art gallery funded by Christian Friedrich Flick, the grandson of a Nazi industrialist. "The exhibition was bought with dirty money from slave labour," he says. In protest, he has resigned his membership of the Social Democratic party. He has no quarrel with fellow survivors; they alone understand each other. But he wishes the activist children of survivors - he is talking of the Jewish population - could be more inclusive of the Sinti; he believes they are still looked down on for being working class. "Juden, juden, juden," he says. "Sinti, nix." He travels to Berlin regularly to campaign for the building of a memorial to the Sinti victims, so far in vain. "Here is this 84-year-old man," says the interpreter, "travelling to Berlin to demonstrate ..." his voice breaks and he gets up suddenly and leaves the room. Sinti in public positions are still loth to admit to their ethnicity. So Winter goes into schools and universities and tells his story. From his years on the carousel, he is a natural showman. He believes the story still needs to be told because there are plenty of people who, to various degrees, deny it. A few years ago, Winter was on holiday in Gran Canaria when an elderly German couple asked what the number on his arm was. "You people are my age," he said. "You know what it is." Does he wish that, like Israel, there could be a Sinti state? "Ah zo," says Winter, shaking his head against the idea. "Ich bin Deutscher. Ich bin Deutscher."

    Winter Time: Memoirs of a German who Survived Auschwitz is published by the University of Hertfordshire.
    ©The Guardian

    27/1/2005- The Porrajmos, literally "the Devouring," is the term that the Roma use to describe the Nazi regime's attempt to wipe their people off the face of the Earth; for the genocidal wave of terror known to most of the world as the Holocaust. An estimated half million Roma were killed during the Second World War ­ only five percent of the Czech-born population survived. Nearly all who lived through internment in the Czech-run labour camps near Hodonin and Lety ­ now the site of a pig farm ­ later perished in the so-called "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Inmate number 1-9-9-6 was among the few Roma to survive Auschwitz. The Nazis didn't bother to tattoo an ID number on Antonin Hlavacek's arm ­ Romani children, like the elderly, weren't meant to live long, so his number was written in ink. But sixty years later, Mr Hlavacek can no more forget the number he answered to at Auschwitz than the atrocities he witnessed as a young boy.

    'The transports would come in when it was dark. We weren't allowed to go outside but heard it all. They'd pull everyone out of the train, pile up their clothes and belongings on the floor and send most of them straight to the 'showers'. Instead of water, it was gas that came out of the pipes. There was also a group of prisoners, selected every three months, that was given more food and made to work in what we thought was a bakery. Only much later did we realise it was a crematorium, where they burned people. The toilet was just one big hole with a piece of wood over it and in order to get to it, we had to move aside dead bodies because they were only taken away every three days.'

    The horrors of the death camps have been exhaustively documented, but the wartime fate of the Roma ­ who, like Europe's Jewish population, were singled out for extinction by the Nazis along racial lines ­ is less widely understood; their tremendous suffering and loss often reduced to little more than a historical footnote. An estimated 70 percent of Europe's Romani population died in the "Devouring"; yet no Roma were called to testify at the post-war Nuremberg Trials and no one spoke there on their behalf. Artur Radvansky ­ a Jewish Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz ­ has made a point of bearing witness in recent years, travelling to Germany to explain the Holocaust to students of all ages. One horrific event stands out in his mind above all the others ­ the day he watched camp guards bring in a group of Romani war veterans from Germany.

    "I witnessed the most terrible thing, something which no-one else knows about in this country because no-one else is alive to remember it. One day, the Auschwitz guards brought in between 400 and 600 Roma from Germany. Many of the men were former German soldiers who had fought in Poland during the First World War. Some of them were still wearing their medals: the Knight's Cross, if you're familiar with it. They were decorated soldiers ­ German soldiers ­ and yet one night the guards came and took them to the gas chambers to be killed."

    While the fate of the Roma ­ a dark skinned people who largely lived on the margins of European society and had known persecution for centuries ­ may now seem inevitable, in the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Roma and Sinti people, then commonly referred to collectively as "Gypsies," posed a problem for Hitler's racial ideologues. The Nazi anthropologists knew that the Roma had arrived in Europe from India and believed them to be descendents of the original "Aryan" invaders of the subcontinent, who returned to Europe.
    So Nazi racialist Hans Gunther found a justification for measures already long in place to control "the Gypsy plague": if the Roma were no less "Aryan" than Germans, he theorized, then their supposed "inherent criminal character" must have stemmed from their having mingled with "inferior" races over centuries of nomadic life. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization, to control population growth among "Gypsies and most of the Germans of black colour." In 1939, the Nazi's Office of Racial Hygiene issued a statement saying "All Gypsies should be treated as hereditarily sick [...] the aim should therefore be the elimination ­ without hesitation ­of this defective element in the population." The following year, at a concentration camp in Buchenwald, 250 Romani children were used as human guinea pigs to test cyanide gas crystals.

    It was in January 1942 that the Nazi bureaucrats decided on the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" ­ extermination in mass concentration camps. At that time, so-called "pure Gypsies," as members of the "Aryan race", initially weren't targeted for extinction along racial lines and even continued to serve in the Germany army. But in December that year, Heinrich Himmler, the commander of the German SS and the principal executor of the "Final Solution," gave orders that all Romani candidates for extermination be transported to Auschwitz; and in November 1943, expanded the order: all "Gypsies and part Gypsies" were be treated "on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps."

    "Contrary to the fate of the Jews, Roma and Sinti were still taken into the German army until 1942 and only then did Himmler give the order to deport all the Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz, to the so-called 'Zigeunerlager'[Gypsy camp] - no matter what kind way of life they led, but only on the basis of their race."

    Markus Pape is spokesperson for the Prague-based Committee for the Redress of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH). He has done extensive research on Czech-run labour camps and his organization has been gathering testimony from Romani survivors for some time now. The vast majority of Romani people living in what is today the Czech Republic are descended from Slovak Roma; their ancestors transferred here to the Czech lands in communist-era resettlement programmes. Mr Pape says most Romani survivors agree to speak about their experiences only if they are not shown or identified on Czech media, so painful is the memory and so great their fear, even today, of persecution by skinheads and repurcussions from other racist groups active in Czech society. Czech officials have been slow to acknowledge the wartime persecution of the Roma. Not only do precious few memorials exist to honour the memory of those killed in the war, but the site of the largest Czech labour camp, near the town of southern Bohemian town of Lety, where over 1300 Roma were interned at a time, is today home to ... a pig farm. By contrast, Auschwitz was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.

    Markus Pape again:
    "Even though the Czechoslovak authorities made a major investigation into what happened at the Lety camp ­ and found most of the perpetrators who caused the death of at least 241 children ­ none of the guilty persons was ever punished. This is one fact which is to this day very difficult to explain to the Roma." "The other fact is that in the 1970s, a huge pig farm was built on the former camp site ­ and is being run until today. In spite of protests by Roma and annual memorial vigils held right next to the former camp site. The Czech government has not managed to explain why this is the way it is."

    A law establishing Lety as a work camp for "nomads" ­ read the Roma ­ was passed in March 1939 by Czechoslovakia's proto-fascist Second Republic. In 1942, the Nazis designated the Lety facility as a concentration camp for Roma. Nearly all of the Roma who survived the torture, malnourishment and typhoid rampant in the Czech-run camps of Lety and Hodonin, met their death in a special "Gypsy family camp" at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but not without a fight, says Mr Pape. "In May 1994, thousands of Sinti and Roma barricaded themselves in, ready to fight the SS men. They had found out that on that same day all of them were to be killed, by gas, at once. The SS decided not to attack, or try to kill these people. Unfortunately, later on, the ones who were still healthy enough to work were sent on to other concentration camps and only a few of them survived; and the children and old people were killed in a massacre in Auschwitz."

    The liberation of the Auschwitz ­ sixty years ago this Thursday (January 27) ­ came too late for the Roma, as it did for over a million Jews, and tens of thousands of Poles, and political prisoners, homosexuals and "asocials" of all nationalities. Months before the liberation, camp authorities closed the "Gypsy family camp," gassing some 3,000 Roma in the first days of August, 1944. Over 20,000 Roma had already died there from starvation and disease, or in the gas chambers. The interned Roma had been allowed to stay together as families only because the Nazis had learned from past experience that separating Romani parents from their children made them impossible to control as a group and exploit for forced labour. Far more Roma people died outside the camps than in them, especially in Eastern Europe, where pogroms and summary executions were a daily occurrence. Antonin Lagrin's mother and father were among those who somehow survived "the Devouring" - the Romani Holocaust. But despite the stories his parents told him, he was shocked to learn the extent to which his family had been decimated.

    "I saw a list of names of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau which had the names of about fifty relatives. That came as a big surprise. I didn't know there were so many of us there. I just knew of my close relatives. My great grandfather was shot there and my great grandmother was kicked to death just because she tried to get snow off her head when she was working outside in the freezing cold. Camp prisoners must have gone through horrific things, but my parents don't like to think about them."
    ©Radio Prague

    21/1/2005- A black marble plaque surmounted by a pink triangle will be unveiled next Wednesday at the site of the only Nazi concentration camp in Italy. The pink triangle was the symbol sewn for identification on the uniforms of homosexuals imprisoned in the camps. It has since been adopted by the gay movement as a more general symbol of their persecution, both under the Nazis and under other, less malign regimes. The unveiling at San Sabba, a rice-mill near Trieste converted into a concentration camp by the Nazis in 1943, is the first public recognition in Italy of the suffering of gays under the Nazis. The plaque, proposed by Arcigay, Italy's most prominent gay rights group, is backed by the city's mayor and council. "The plaque is important," says Sergio lo Giudice, president of Arcigay, who will do the unveiling. "It's a sign that something in Italy is changing." And changing quickly; in 2003 when gay activists attempted to get the persecution of homosexuals under the Nazis recognised officially, Trieste's ruling centre-right slapped them down. Roberto Menia, a councillor with the "post-fascist" Alleanza Nazionale, said: "For the sake of political correctness we're forced to be buggers." In 1930, Mussolini opposed introduction of a law targeting homosexuals, saying: "To the fortune and the pride of Italy, this abominable vice does not exist here".

    Just last year, Italy's minister for Europe, Rocco Buttiglione, told MEPs in Brussels he considered homosexuality a sin. But now the city council has voted unanimously to let the commemoration go ahead. The plaque will be unveiled on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, at the culmination of a torchlit peace procession. Homosexuals were among several non-Jewish groups sent to concentration camps in their thousands by the Nazis. Other groups included political enemies of the Nazis and Jehovah's Witnesses. Holocaust historians point out that, unlike Jews, Gypsies and other "non-Aryans", these groups were not sent to be exterminated but "re-educated". That, at least, was the theory. But prejudice and hostility towards them from other inmates as well as the camp authorities and SS guards meant that most died within a relatively short time. Unlike the Jews, they were not herded into the camps en masse but taken "in random samples", wrote Rüdiger Lautmann, professor of sociology at the University of Bremen. "They were supposed to renounce their particular orientation. Hitler considered homosexuality as a predisposition that could not be changed ... [but] its manifestations could be blocked." Severe measures were intended as behaviouristic conditioning, a way to cause unlearning through aversion. Professor Lautmann said: "If necessary, homosexuals were to be castrated, but they were permitted to continue to work. As a matter of policy, extermination was therefore restrained. In practice there were other contrary impulses on the part of the SS, and those who wore the pink triangle met an unusually harsh fate." Professor Lautmann says two-thirds of gays in the camps died there. The survivors were so cowed that it was not until the play Bent in 1979 that their suffering became widely known.
    © Independent Digital

    Suggestions and comments please to