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Christoph Heubner and the Israeli Ambassador, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman © Boris Buchholz
Christoph Heubner and the Israeli Ambassador, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman © Boris Buchholz 

 

dpa-Interview with Christoph Heubner

Holocaust victims warn against trivialisation and forgetting

by Eva Krafczyk

Warsaw. (dpa) Survivors of Auschwitz and other National Socialist death camps are deeply concerned, not only by Holocaust deniers and open anti-Semitism. Today, 69 years after the Liberation of Auschwitz, the playing down of the events and the trivialisation of anti-Jewish jokes are causing bitterness, says Christoph Heubner, Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, an organisation of survivors.

Soldiers of the Red Army liberated Auschwitz 69 years ago. This year, more than half of the members of the Israeli parliament are visiting Auschwitz to commemorate the dead on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. How do the survivors feel about the way the public is treating their experiences?

During these days especially, many survivors of the Holocaust feel that the everyday world around them is becoming increasingly forgetful, cold and potentially hostile towards them. The survivors are filled with anger and sadness to see how the murder of their relatives is suddenly being downplayed by people who are now saying that they “died”. They see how, in the international use of language, German concentration and death camps are becoming “Polish” death camps, simply because the crime scenes and the memorial sites are located on Polish soil. And the survivors can see a development in Germany, in which people defiantly insist that they too were in fact victims, and that they have been unable to talk about this for far too long.

Anti-Semitism didn’t end with the liberation of Auschwitz and the collapse of Nazi Germany. Where do the survivors see the dangers today?

In many European countries the conviction that Jews are behind the banking crisis is becoming louder and increasingly impertinent. This proves that anti-Semitism can be re-awakened and updated at any time. But also the insidious, anti-Semitic spite of a French comedian deeply insults and hurts the survivors. The survivors sense all of this as a loss of empathy towards themselves and their murdered relatives. The pain threshold is being crossed every day, and in many countries has become commonplace. This also includes the brazen assertion that the survivors of the Holocaust must surely have squeezed enough money out of Germany by now, and this must stop. By the way, that’s what a lot of people in Germany were already saying in 1963 – before the first Auschwitz trail had even begun in Frankfurt.

On the topic of the Auschwitz Trial – the search is still going on for Nazi criminals. But even if they are discovered, they are often too old to be taken to court, or they do not live to hear the verdict. What does this mean to the Holocaust survivors who have to live with the memories of murdered relatives and their own sufferings?

The survivors are outraged by the fact that many criminals from Auschwitz have lived a free and carefree life, and have never seen the inside of a courthouse. Nevertheless, they hope that known perpetrators will finally be brought before a court in Germany. This gives them at least the hope of belated justice.

Is there anything at all that fills the survivors with hope?

For the survivors, the many encounters with young people – not just in Germany – are a great sign of hope. The young people’s interest and the sensitivity they express in their reactions to the survivors’ accounts are very important to them. Europe is a source of hope for the survivors – the hope that emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz: the survivors are still counting on the tolerance and democracy that the citizens are defending against right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism. And in very concrete terms: the visit by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Auschwitz Memorial last November strongly motivated them. Ban Ki-moon assured them that the focus will remain on their fate, and that their testimony will be safeguarded so that their legacy will never die. This is also being clearly underlined by the visit of the Knesset members and of parliamentary delegations from many countries.
 
This interview was published on 27.1.2014.