World Jewish Congress presídent Ronald S. Lauder on Holocaust commemoration: Draw lessons for today, protect Israel


In an opinion piece for Germany’s leading newspaper ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, argues that Holocaust remembrance should be “more than just a regular gathering of dignitaries listening to solemn speeches by important people.”

He noted that, although solemn acts were important in their symbolism, the remembrance of the Shoah also had practical consequences for today’s world.

“Is it acceptable to organize big Shoah commemorations on one day, and to provide the Islamist regime in Tehran with technology to develop weapons or even nuclear capabilities the next? Can we put our head in the sand and ignore the warning signs, like so many Europeans now do after the US intelligence report published in December?, ” Lauder asks.

He also criticizes the attitude of some Europeans: “The rejection of the ‘Zionist state’ is not just found among Islamists and those who want ‘to wipe Israel off the map.’ It can also be detected in Europe where self-proclaimed ‘principled people’ often apply much stricter standards when judging Israeli actions than in comparable cases. This is, in itself, a form of discrimination and leads to a ‘demonization’ of Israel.”

The WJC president concludes that protecting the State of Israel was part of honouring the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Full text:

Sunday’s speeches, Monday’s actions

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany
25 January 2008

by Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC)

Holocaust memorial day on 27 January is important – the Iran crisis will show if European politicians draw their lessons

In June 2006, the Holocaust survivor Noach Flug was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by Germany’s President Horst Köhler, for promoting mutual understanding between Jews and non-Jews and between Israel and Germany. Seventy years earlier those in power in Germany then wanted to murder Flug for being Jewish. He was the only of over a hundred family members who survived Auschwitz.

In November 2005, the United Nations designed 27 January as annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on that day in 1945 that Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. In its unanimously adopted resolution, the UN General Assembly also pledged to “develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.” The UN has since invested considerable resources to educate young people. More and more countries have now adopted January 27 as their national Holocaust memorial day.

The UN resolution was a milestone, because we owe it to the victims that their suffering is not forgotten. We owe it to them not to point fingers at others, but to remind ourselves constantly what terrible crimes human beings are capable of committing. We also owe it to survivors like Noach Flug to make sure that commemorations are more than just a regular gathering of dignitaries listening to solemn speeches by important people.

Don’t get me wrong: of course we need official ceremonies and declarations. They are important in their symbolism and remind us that the past has a bearing on the present. Yet for me, the most powerful form of remembrance has always been when a survivor has told me his or her story. Even though such stories may have been repeated a thousand times, they always remain as shocking and vivid as the first time.

Official acts of commemoration are one part of a culture of remembrance. The other part is trying to answer the question: What lessons can we draw from this for ourselves? How does this influence us as political leaders and as citizens?

The most obvious consequence to me is this: we have to achieve a small measure of justice for those few remaining Shoah survivors who are still among us. It is true that much has been achieved in this field over the past decades. We must not forget that there are many survivors – notably in eastern Europe, but also in Israel – who are old and frail, who cannot afford expensive medicines or the intensive care they need therefore cannot live in dignity. Although many agreements have been concluded and governments have looked for “legal closure”, I believe there is still a moral obligation on responsible politicians to listen carefully when people like Noach Flug speak out on behalf of survivors.

After World War II, many Holocaust survivors left Europe for the Holy Land. Noach Flug was one of them. The fact that the State of Israel came into existence was due to a UN resolution that partitioned Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Arabs rejected this and waged war on the fledgling Jewish state. They failed repeatedly. Despite continuing attacks Jews in Israel and the Diaspora will thus be able to celebrate 60 years of Israel’s existence next May. Even though the history of Zionism and Jewish settlement in the Holy Land is much older, Israel was to some extent built on the ashes of the Holocaust. Like many other survivors, Noach Flug helped to build and defend Israel. He became president of the International Auschwitz Committee and the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.

Yet even six decades after its proclamation, Israel is the only country in the world whose existence is not accepted by a large number of governments and people in the world. The rejection of the “Zionist state” is not just found among Islamists and those who want “to wipe Israel off the map.” It can also be detected in Europe where self-proclaimed gutmenschen often apply much stricter standards when judging Israeli actions than in comparable cases. This is, in itself, a form of discrimination and leads to a ‘demonization’ of Israel.

It is strange: Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has had a stable plural democracy in the last 60 years. A sizeable minority of one million Arabs holds Israeli citizenship and is represented in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Most of them would probably not want to swap their passport for any other document. Yet some less well-meaning people say that Israel should not be a Jewish state. To me, this is just another way of questioning Israel’s right to exist.

When commemorating the Holocaust, we Jews always have Israel’s well-being in the back of our mind. It should be in the back of everyone’s mind. But then the question is: Is it acceptable to organize big Shoah commemorations on one day, and to provide the Islamist regime in Tehran with technology to develop weapons or even nuclear capabilities the next? Can we to put our head in the sand and ignore the warning signs, like so many Europeans now do after the US intelligence report published in December?

Seventy years ago, there was a British Prime Minister who proudly talked of “peace in our time” when returning from a conference in Munich with Hitler and Mussolini. He thought the “appeasement” of dictators was possible. Less than a year later, Europe was in flames and the Nazis were sending millions to the death camps. We must not let history repeat itself. We owe it to Noach Flug and all the others who perished in the Shoah. Therefore, 27 January should always be a date to reflect precisely about that.

The original German language version can be seen here.

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