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the european parliament remembers

The 2018 International Holocaust Commemoration Day Ceremony at the European Parliament in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress took place on Wednesday 24 January at the Yehudi Menuhin Hall. Liliane Seidman, Chair of ICJW's European Region, reorts on what was said.

The European International Holocaust Commemoration Day event was attended by leading
European Union officials, leaders of Europe’s Jewish communities, and diplomats. The main ceremony, held on Wednesday afternoon, was preceded by the launch of a new exhibition about the Roma and Sinti victims of the Nazis. A few speeches were given relating the suffering and extermination they endured under the Hitler regime.

Lívia Járóka, reporter on EU Roma strategy and the first Romani female MP in the European
Parliament, spoke about the hundreds of thousands of Roma killed by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945 in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Members of the community, along with the Sinti minority, were also subject to Nazi racial discrimination laws in the lead-up to the Holocaust, forced sterilizations in the 1930s, and medical experimentation in the death camps.

Mairead McGuinness, European Parliament Vice- President, gave an opening speech
emphasizing the importance of the yearly International Holocaust Commemoration Day

It was followed by Moshe Kantor, European Jewish Congress President, who insisted on these historical moments for the Jewish communities and for the few survivals. He also said that discrimination is still faced by Roma, homosexuals and disabled people, all of whom were targeted by the Nazis. 

Holocaust Remembrance cannot belong to one day. He said that the European Parliament has to stand up for pluralism, more tolerance, to combat anti-Semitism that’s growing more and more all over Europe, to promote education, to ensure security and to stop the rise of the ultra right and left wings. His motto is: Education – Remembrance. We have to transmit our heritage to the next generations.

He concluded: “Today is the day to take up this challenge as a national mission. We owe it to the 25,000 Belgian Jews who were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. We owe it to the Belgian Jews of today who seek to be an active and appreciated part of this country. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to begin building a better future for every citizen of Belgium – regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background.”

Two musical interludes were played by youth musicians from Musica Mundi; the violinist was a very young girl and her interpretation very emotional. It was accompanied by a slide-show
with faces of children who died during the Shoah and a second slide-show of arts and poems by children imprisoned in death and concentration camps.

The Commemoration was followed by a statement from Yuli-Yoël Edelstein, speaker of the
Israeli Knesset, who spoke about his family, especially about his father who did not have any
childhood friends because they were buried in Babi Yar and about his mother who told him
stories about her life in the Shargorod Ghetto in Transnistria.

Yuli Edelstein drew our attention to the past and what have we learned today. After the creation of the United Nations, the State of Israel and the European Union, what has been learned is synagogues across Europe need round the clock protection, that we cannot wear a kippa or a Star of David necklace for fear of attack? He repeated Simone Veil’s words who said “Never again” is never enough to protect future generations. It takes more than words, more than resolutions, more than good intentions”.

Yuli Edelstein’s speech was very powerful - here are some of his words. 

"The efforts to combat anti-semitism and to protect the Jews of Europe are sincerely appreciated, but what is the message when elected officials march with the Jewish community one day and against Israel the next? When leaders embrace the local rabbi in solidarity after a hate crime and treat Hamas as a legitimate voice? When an attack is condemned as anti-Semitic and then Israel is denounced for fabricated war crimes?

"Antisemitism has no excuse. Today we know that we ignore hatred and intolerance at our peril. I stand here, in the capital of a united Europe, which is heir to cultures and histories that have enriched the world. The Jewish People have been proud parts of this European heritage in every field. But we always cherished our own heritage and maintained our ties to the Jewish capital, regardless of recent UNESCO decisions. In Jerusalem, the Jewish People made their mark on the world. Therefore, it was meaningful to us that last month, one country – the United States – chose to recognize the capital of Israel after 70 years of independence, acknowledging both our ancient heritage and our modern history.

"I welcome you to do the same. Join me for a visit in my capital, that is dedicated to improving human condition through healthcare, hi tech, and spiritual elevation for members of ALL faiths. Together, we can bear witness to the words of the ancient prophets: “There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem… And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls”.

"This parliament is an inspiration to Europe and the world. Use your standing to realize the values on which this institution was founded. Together, we can declare an end to anti-Semitism and achieve the vision to which we re-commit ourselves today: Never Again! Nunca más! Plus jamais! Mai più! Nie wieder! Never Again! (in Hebrew)”

The Chief Rabbi of Belgium, Albert Guigui, concluded the Commemoration day, thanking Mr.
Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, for making this ceremony an important event and Mrs. McGuiness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, to promote interfaith dialogue.

He said: "Commemoration is important because memories fade with the time and the falsifiers take the opportunity for denial. By keeping our past, we keep our look turned to the future. Today more than ever, we have to pass on the founding values of Europe starting with the commitment to democracy, respect for the individual, to stand firm against hate and violence and to “not” forget the past."

Just as Rabbi Guigui believes in the irresistible power of memory, it was Elie Wiesel who said: "Hope without memory is like memory without hope."

Rabbi Guigui recited the Kaddish with students of a Jewish school from Antwerp. It was followed by a Minute of Silence. It was a very emotional and powerful ceremony