Never Again

75th Anniversary at Auschwitz

By a Correspondent

Countries still fight over the history of the Holocaust, and do too little to stop other genocides. The Soviet troops who in 1945 liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the biggest Nazi concentration camp in occupited Poland.

Andrzej Duda, Poland's president was not, on the theory that the Polish state was not involved in the liberation. Russia recently launched a disinformation campaign denying that the Soviets collaborated with the Nazis at the start of the Second World War, and Mr Duda boycotted the ceremony, expecting that it would be used for Russian propaganda.

That led to a split between Holocaust memorials along national lines, with the director of the Auschwitz memorial criticising Yad Vashem. Mr Duda and Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, both spoke at Auschwitz, but Russia showed its ire by sending no high-level official. For Jews worried about the global rise in anti-Semitism, such squabbles were really worrisome evidence that countries would be unable to set aside political differences in combating it.

Meanwhile, the absence of non-European countries at the memorial spoke to the global failure to make good on the pledge that genocide like that which occurred at Auschwitz will never happen again-not just to Jews but to other peoples. Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser against genocide, is one attendee who could draw the link: he served as registrar of the international tribunal on the genocide in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were massacred in 1994 because of their clan affiliation. But Rwanda did not send any representative to the ceremony. Neither had Sudan, whose former leader, Omar al-Bashir, has been charged by the International Criminal Court with committing genocide against non-Arab tribes in Darfur in the early 2000s. He was overthrown and jailed last year, but Sudan's new government is run by the same army that carried out the ethnic cleansing.

No Arab countries would be in attendance: the victimhood contest between Israel and the Palestinians makes it hard for the latter to commemorate the Holocaust.

The camp, where 1.1 m people were murdered-90% of them Jews, along with Roma and political or war prisoners-has become a universally recognised symbol of evil and of the global commitment to prevent genocide.

On January 27th the Auschwitz Memorial Museum was staging a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation. A long roster of international officials attended, including the presidents of Germany, Israel, Poland and Ukraine, the prime ministers of France and Hungary and the UN's special adviser for preventing genocide. Yet Russia, which considers itself the heir to the Soviet Union's wartime accomplishments, sent only its ambassador to Poland. Few non-European countries represented the event. The gaps in the guest list testify to the modern political problems that muffle Auschwitz's message of "never again".

One problem is interpreting history: who gets the blame for the Holocaust and who gets credit for resisting it. Poland is angered by any notion that it was complicit in the mass killing of Jews. When foreigners refer to Auschwitz and similar camps as "Polish death camps" to indicate their location, it infuriates Poles who feel this implies that their country ran them (rather than the German occupiers). They understandably insist on the correct formulation, "Nazi death camps in occupied Poland".

But in 2018 the Poles overstepped, passing a law that would have criminalised stating that the Polish people had collaborated in the Holocaust. In fact, while some Christian Poles heroically saved Jews, most did nothing- and others helped kill them. Many Jews saw the law as whitewashing the long history of anti-Semitism in Poland and other European countries besides Germany. The Poles eventually scrapped the law, but Israel showed its own prejudices last year when its foreign minister claimed that Poles "imbibe anti-Semitism with their mother's milk.

And now 1m Muslim Uighurs in "re-education camps" in China. Even within Europe, efforts to apply the lessons of Auschwitz are controversial. Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia are glaring examples. But if the Bosnian delegation brings up the genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995, Serbia's prime minister won't like to hear it.

Auschwitz is a place whose horrors shatter the imagination. Hannah Arendt, a Jewish political philosopher who explored totalitarianism, wrote that the proper response was to consider it as a crime against all of humanity. The fact that it was Jews exterminated there, she wrote, reflected "only the choice of victims [and] not the nature of the crime". But even the governments that are attending the anniversary of the camp's liberation apply that lesson selectively.

[Source : The Economist]

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Vol. 52, No. 32, Feb 9 - 15, 2020