It is becoming a habit to mark January 27 as the international day dedicated to the six million innocent victims of the Holocaust. European cities and capitals annually host a series of events meant to highlight the remembrance of the terrible crimes that took place between 1939 and 1945. One day, just one day appears to be sufficient for the younger generations to feel no longer concerned by the darkest hour of European History.
Moreover, one day seems to be enough for European politicians paying a visit to museums and remembrance sites as it comforts them in the socially accepted idea that those who perpetrated these massacres were alien to the overall mentality of their respective societies. At the same time, one day is certainly more than any teacher or professor will spend in high schools presenting his students with what really happened throughout those six years during which a continent’s social fabric rotted in front of a murderous surge of hatred.
This day of remembrance appears to be highly disconnected from what European societies really feel in regard to the Shoah. Some 90% Polish Jews exterminated; 95% Belarusian Jews exterminated; French assimilated Jewish children marked with a yellow Star of David and sent to the death camps by French officials; the Romanian death trains and the ultimate horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald are all facts that are today considered as an intangible past. This situation is not always the direct fault of uninterested or self-blinded citizens, as politicians play a major part in downplaying the role the Shoah needs to have in European societies.
As an example, France has sanctified the concept of “resistant” setting into stone the official discourse, which erases all responsibility of French citizens for the deportation of thousands of innocent Jews to the eastern killing centers. While the Raffle du Vel’d’Hiv’ has been a complete French initiative operated by French officials, it is highly unlikely that any representative of the Republic will address this issue on January 27, preferring to emphasize the role played by the small portion of the population which stood up to fight against the maddening reign of terror which overtook the European psyche in those years.
The same applies to Eastern European countries, the epicenter of the Shoah and the terrain de chasse of the einsatz commando. In the soul searching that followed and is still affecting the post-Soviet world, the industrial extermination of six million Jews does not fit an official discourse of national self-sacrifice. Thus, remembering the Shoah on January 27 is seen largely as a necessary step to nurture the appearances, as it has been the case for German chancellors, many of whom in the ‘60s and ‘70s protected ex-nazi criminals visiting the Jewish State of Israel.
Politicization of history
The European, be it Western or Eastern, amnesia and detachment from the horrors of the Shoah are being brought about by two important factors.
On the one hand, these ceremonies have been blessed by the official discourse and are legally incorporated into the international calendar at present. Even though this appears to be a positive point, it nevertheless captures a peculiar reality: Ceremonies need to be protected by the law. If not, the Shoah may slowly be forgotten by societies which no longer seem to be troubled by the weight of guilt - a guilt which is predictably no longer on the shoulders of the present generations, but is entrenched as a matter of cultural relativism accepting anti-Semitism as part of a discourse that should not be denounced unequivocally.
On the other hand, one must address a general lack of courage by mainstream left-leaning civil society organizations. Due to their more or less strong opposition to Israel and the ‘fashionable’ manner in which these institutions support the concept of a state for the Palestinians, the open remembrance of the Shoah perpetrated in Europe by Europeans increasingly appears to be politically sensitive. The “yes but” mentality, which attempts to relativize the worst crime committed by human beings, is slowly taking over the European social discourse.
As European societies are losing their memory, the attitude of the ruling classes and the one of younger generations in regard to the Shoah has to be closely monitored. The politicization of history to satisfy certain branches of the population is a highly dangerous development.
The crisis of culture which swept across Europe and led to the destruction of six million Jewish lives needs to be remembered for what it was: A European act, continent-wide, which was ‘allowed’ to have taken place by all parts of local societies.
In the period of a political, economic, social, and moral crises, the commemoration of January 27 needs to take into consideration the risk represented by modern extremism and the evolving face of anti-Semitism. Only then will the “never again” sentence truly acquire its modern meaning.
In order to prevent the spread of a death-oriented mentality, actions must be taken by civil society groups and good willed persons so that the Remembrance Day is no longer confined solely to a political act.
Riccardo Dugulin holds a Master degree from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po) and is specialized in International Security. He is currently working in Paris for a Medical and Security Assistance company. He has worked for a number of leading think tanks in Washington DC, Dubai and Beirut. Personal website: www.riccardodugulin.com