Jewish prayers, sung by an Orthodox cantor, will fill the United Nations General Assembly Hall today. From the same green marble rostrum where invective is often hurled at the world’s sole Jewish state, today the Parliament of Man will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the murder of 6 million European Jews.
While the Hebrew calendar’s Yom HaShoah falls in the spring, the secular date is Jan. 27, the day in 1945 when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest of the six death factories for Jews that the Germans built in occupied Poland. In deference to the 27th being on the Sabbath, the UN ceremony was moved to today.
It is world’s duty — and Europe’s in particular — to remember this unfathomable crime committed by a modern, scientifically advanced and highly cultured nation against a defenseless population scattered across a continent amid the most devastating war in human history.
Many of the crimes happened in Poland, at Auschwitz and Chelmno and Belzec and Sobibor and Treblinka and Majdanek. These were murder camps for Jews, not concentration camps like Germany’s Dachau and Bergen-Belsen.
The extermination camps’ location does not make them “Polish”; they were German, run by Germans with help from Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Latvians.
But today’s Polish lawmakers seek to make it a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison to accuse Poland or Poles of the murder of the Jews by referring to death camps as Polish. That is a dangerous attempt to control and constrain the writing of history.
The Holocaust was most severe in Poland because that’s where the Jews were, more than 3 million in pre-war Poland. While it is true that Poland heroically resisted the Germans, not every Catholic Pole was a saint. Some Jews were betrayed by some Poles; some Poles stole Jewish property. But Poland was still a victim.
Compare that legacy to that of war-time Croatia, a fascist state which without German direction murdered its Jews and Serbs. A new study from the World Jewish Congress disturbingly shows that Croat fascist symbols and slogans are reappearing in today’s Croatia without the government taking action to counter it.
For Europe to slay present anti-Semitic demons, it must reckon honestly with its past.