Bulgarian, EU leaders speak on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day each year reminds us of the value of democracy and peace, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on January 27.

“It reminds us that there were times when innocent people were most brutally killed and human rights were unceremoniously trampled on. It is not enough to mourn the millions of lives lost during the Holocaust,” Borissov said in a message on Facebook.

“The gloomy past and the screams from the concentration camps must make us adamant that antisemitism, racism and intolerance have no place in our world. This depends on us. On our actions every day,” he said.

“We are proud of the courage of all known and unknown Bulgarian citizens, clergy, politicians and public figures who saved more than 48 000 of their Jewish compatriots from the death camps,” Borissov said, adding a tribute to the memory of the 11 000 Jews deported from Vardar Macedonia and Aegean Thrace, as well as to all Jews killed during the Second World War.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said: “We need to remain united against intolerance, xenophobia and hate in all its forms”.

In a message on Twitter, President Roumen Radev said: “We remember the victims of the Holocaust. There is a strong and deep connection between Bulgarian and Jewish people. During the Second World War Bulgaria saved its Jewish community of 50 000 people”.

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli ambassador to Bulgaria Yoram Elron joined the online campaign “Name and Candle” organized by “שם ונר – Our 6 Million– A Candle For Every Name”.

He lit a candle in memory of Lili Henoch, 43, from Konigsberg, Prussia. Henoch was an athlete who set four world records. She perished in Riga Ghetto in Latvia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilli_Henoch

Further details about the virtual campaign are available at https://www.shemvener.org.il/en/

The Council of the EU said: “Today, we remember the tragedy of the Holocaust and pay tribute to the memory of the six million Jews and other victims murdered during the Holocaust. The EU stands firmly against antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. We will always remember”.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution in an online ceremony on January 27,  from 6pm to 7pm EET.

In honour of the victims of the Holocaust and to mark the German Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), Merkel will give the keynote address at a joint commemoration ceremony which the IHRA is holding in cooperation with the UN and Unesco.

The event is to be followed by an online panel discussion on Holocaust denial and distortion from 7pm to 8pm EET, featuring historian Deborah Lipstadt, a leader in the fight against Holocaust denial, Philippe Sands, best-selling author and lawyer, Hella Pick, journalist and Kindertransport survivor, Marian Turski, President of the Jewish Historical Institute Association and Vice-President of the International Auschwitz Committee, and Robert Williams, chairperson of the IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial. Both events will be streamed on UN Web TV and via Unesco’s social media channels.

Ambassador Michaela Küchler, chairperson of the IHRA said: “Remembrance plays a critical role in fighting the persistent forces of antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion.

“This is because remembrance ties us fundamentally to the facts, to what took place and the people it affected. When we remember, when we strive to reflect upon this suffering, we understand that as unimaginable as it is, it is just as undeniable,” she said.

The challenge in our times is monumental: 63 per cent of young Americans do not know how many died in the Holocaust; 47 per cent of Germans surveyed in 2020 responded that Germany was “not particularly guilty”.

Holocaust denial and distortion are symptoms of increasing disinformation, hate speech and prejudice worldwide. A Swedish report showed that 35 per cent of social media posts referencing Jews included antisemitic stereotypes and hostile statements.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend and has heralded an explosion of antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media platforms, many of which draw their inspiration from historic antisemitic tropes.

Protests against coronavirus restrictions in many European countries were reported to be permeated with far right and antisemitic rhetoric.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, FRA, said in its message marking the day that the hardships and worries caused by the long-running Covid-19 pandemic are creating the conditions for intolerance to spread.

Early on, it triggered an increase in racist and xenophobic attacks, particularly towards Asians. Some people blame Jews for creating and spreading the virus. Some even claim Jews use the pandemic for profit.

Even before the pandemic, Europe-wide surveys point to widespread intolerance towards ethnic minorities, Jews, Roma and LGBTI people.

Only one in two Europeans would feel comfortable with their child loving a Roma person, for example.

Almost two in five Jews surveyed by FRA consider emigrating because they do not feel safe as Jews in their own countries.

Not only that, Holocaust survivors are particularly at risk from the virus given their age.

This becomes problematic. The number of survivors diminishes at a time when one in two Europeans believe that Holocaust denial is a problem in their country. It reduces the number of people who can recount the horrors of the past first hand.

Holocaust Remembrance Day so should act as a springboard to promote understanding between diverse communities as a guard against intolerance, FRA said.

“It should be a poignant time to learn from the past and build for a better, more inclusive future.

“It underlines the importance of strengthening Holocaust education, celebrating diversity, and raising awareness to create a better understanding of how intolerance affects people and society as a whole,” the agency said.

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