Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld’s latest article, ‘Distortions of Memorializing the Holocaust’, it originally appeared at Israel National News.
DISTORTIONS OF MEMORIALIZING THE HOLOCAUST
Friday, the 27th of January, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The memorialization of the Holocaust over the decades has led to many controversies. A small, fairly random selection of issues from seven countries will illustrate some facets of this subject.
Currently, a major debate is going on in the German extreme-rightwing AfD Party as well as in German society at large. Bjorn Hoecke, the AfD leader in the federal state of Thuringia, has said that Germans are the “only people in the world who planted a memorial of disgrace in the heart of their capital.”1 He is referring to the stone slabs memorial in Berlin. It opened in 2005 and commemorates the six million Jews of Europe murdered by Germany. The AfD in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg wants to stop the state’s subsidy for the French memorial site of the Gurs internment camp, where the Jews of Baden-Württemberg were initially deported.2
Yet another recent issue is that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” but made no mention whatsoever of the Jewish people.3
The first Holocaust monuments in the formerly Nazi-occupied countries were often placed within Jewish environments – synagogues, Jewish institutions, and cemeteries. There was often no interest by authorities, and sometimes even opposition, to have them located in the public domain.
In the Netherlands, the situation has been rather awkward. The first Holocaust-related monument in Amsterdam reflected the distorted attitude of Dutch society in those years. This was a monument of recognition for the gentiles who helped Jews during the war, and was established in 1950. The surviving Jews had apparently been told by the authorities that it would be desirable to put up such a monument.4
I passed this monument every day on my way to the Jewish high school. I was, however, too young to understand what was wrong with its establishment at that point in time. In recent years more publicity has been given to this scandalous attitude of the authorities.
Even worse: the Amsterdam authorities opposed the establishment of a monument for the murdered Jews in the main square of the destroyed Jewish quarter.5 This monument would have been dedicated to the majority of the Dutch Jews, who had been murdered with Dutch assistance, upfront, in arresting, transporting, and guarding therm.
To add insult to injury, a monument called the “Dockworker” was erected in 1952 in that square, in memory of the two-day solidarity strike with the persecuted Jews by the Amsterdam population in February 1941. After those two days, almost all strikers left the Jews to their fate. When the “Dockworker” was put up, M.H. Gans, then editor of the NIW, the Dutch Jewish weekly, wrote: “It is like a monument to anti-aircraft defense on the grave of those who were killed by the bombardment.”6
Only now, more than seventy years after the war, is there a plan to erect a monument in Amsterdam with the names of the 102,000 Dutch Jews and additional citizens murdered in the Holocaust.7 In many Dutch towns whose Jews were killed, Holocaust monuments have finally gone up in recent years, and some more are being planned.
When Communist governments ruled in Eastern Europe, they did not allow special monuments for Jews in the public domain. They considered that there should be no differentiation between those killed, even though only Jews were specifically targeted for extermination. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, mentions that in Lithuania, local officials opposed the inclusion of the phrase “and their local accomplices” on a memorial monument at Ponar (Paneriai), the site of the mass murder of the Jews of Vilnius. Therefore, it attributed the killings only to the Nazis and ignored their Lithuanian helpers.8
Though less permanent and tangible, memorial days and ceremonies have also been a point of contention, and often used as occasions to make political statements. Under Muslim influence, the local council of the British town of Bolton did not hold Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007, and replaced it with a Genocide Memorial Day.9 The following year they marked both.
One might call memorializing Kristallnacht “pre-Holocaust memorialization.” These ceremonies have frequently been occasions for distortions. In 2010, Frankfurt’s then Christian Democrat mayor, Petra Roth, invited Holocaust survivor Alfred Grosser to deliver a dubious Kristallnacht speech in the Paul’s Church. This German-born French Jewish intellectual is a notorious anti-Israel hate-monger and has maintained that Israel’s politics are the reason for antisemitism.10
In Helsingborg, Sweden, the Jewish community refused to participate in the 2012 Kristallnacht memorial ceremony. The local paper Helsingborgs Dagblad noted that the community’s leader, Jussi Tyger, said that the memorial was organized by left-wing parties and Muslims, who are known to be the most racist against Jews.11
A former Yugoslavian Jewish leader, Ivan Ceresjnes, now living in Israel, has pointed out that the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the past decades provides a case study of many aspects of the process of destruction of memory. The successor-states to Yugoslavia are rewriting their histories, during which their collective memories change. The memory of the Holocaust is thus also fragmented according to the current national context.13
The above mentions a few of the many ways Holocaust memory can be publicly distorted. Unfortunately additional ones will occur in the future.
5 Frank van Vree, In de Schaduw van Auschwitz, Herinneringen, beelden, geschiedenis, (Groningen: Historische Uitgeverij, 1995), 94.
6 Mozes Heiman Gans, NIW, 19 December 1952, quoted in Martin Bossenbroek, De Meelstreep: Terugkeer en Opvang na de Tweede Wereldoorlog, (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 2001), 342.
8 Efraim Zuroff, “Eastern Europe: Anti-Semitism in the Wake of Holocaust-Related
Issues,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 1–2 (Spring 2005): 63–79.
9 Amanda Smith, “Town Marks Genocide Memorial Day,” Bolton News, 15 July 2007
11 Inget Judiskt Deltagande när Kristallnatten ska Uppmärksammas,” Helsingborgs Dagblad, November 7, 2012.
13 Interview with Ivan Ceresjnes in Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Abuse of Holocaust Memory. Distortions and Responses, 207-217.