International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed this past Friday, as countries around the world united to preserve the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust and perpetuate their legacies for current and future generations.
A number of ceremonies were held and prominent officials released formal statements to commemorate the Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on January 27, 1945. Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration camp and contributed to the deaths of approximately 1.1 million people.
While the collective outpouring of sympathy and support came from countries worldwide, Norway, France, the United States, and Turkey were among those featured prominently in the media.
In Norway, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg formally acknowledged Norwegian participation in the Holocaust. Though the Nazis occupied Norway and were ultimately accountable for the ensuing deaths of Norwegian Jews, Stoltenberg expressed remorse that Norwegian officers and related personnel succumbed and assisted in the deportation and extermination of Jews.
“Even though the Nazis’ were responsible, it is time to see that police officers and other Norwegians took part in the arrests and deportations of Jews,” the Prime Minister said in a speech. According to Israel’s Haaretz, 772 Norwegian Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps and only 34 survived. “It is time to express our deep regret that this could occur on Norwegian soil,” Stoltenberg added.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy released a statement in which he expressed his country’s commitment to remember and learn from the Holocaust to protect future peoples from suffering a similar tragedy.
“France is determined to fulfill the duty to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to pass this knowledge on to new generations in France and throughout the world,” read the statement. “While the direct witnesses of the Holocaust have, for the most part, already died, the international community has a duty to keep its memory alive so that humankind never experiences such a tragedy again. This duty to remember is a collective responsibility. We must reject all forms of trivialization. By remembering the Holocaust we are reminded of the barbarity of which man is capable, but we are also reminded of the acts of resistance and solidarity between human beings faced with the horror of extermination.”
President Barack Obama also declared the United States’ responsibility to remember and preserve the memory of the Holocaust. “Michelle and I join people in the United States, in Israel, and across the globe as we remember the six million Jews and millions of others who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis,” the President said in a statement released by the White House on Friday. “Together with the State of Israel, and all our friends around the world, we dedicate ourselves to giving meaning to those powerful words: ‘Never Forget. Never Again,'” he added.
As the number of Holocaust survivors continue to dwindle, the threat of Holocaust deniers has become increasingly relevant. “As we remember all those who perished in camps from Auschwitz to Treblinka, Dachau to Sobibor, we pledge to speak truth to those who deny the Holocaust,” the President proclaimed.
The commemorative day came at a most appropriate time, as the Iranian nuclear threat has been extensively discussed in the media and the possibility of an Iranian attack on Israel likened to another Holocaust. Turkey is a majority Muslim country that is on good standing with the Iranian government, and its relationship with Israel has exacerbated in recent years. But while the conflation of Israel with the Jews may have been expected, the Turkish government chose to defy the association in its observance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Turkey became the first majority Muslim country to screen a notable Holocaust documentary on its state-operated television channel on Thursday. Shoah, produced by filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, is a nine-hour-long documentary that offers a number of survivor testimonies and comprehensively covers the Holocaust, and its first episode debuted to a Turkish audience on the eve of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Breaking with convention, many praised Turkey for its bravery and expressed hope this showing would inspire other Muslim nations to act similarly. The Turkish foreign ministry recently agreed to broker nuclear talks between Iran and the West, and this latest event seems to suggest that Turkey may play a pivotal role in establishing a peaceful physical and ideological coexistence between the Arab and Western worlds.
“This is [a] pioneering event, the consequences that Turkey will be followed by other Arab countries and one day by Iran, I am sure,” said Lanzmann, who worked 11 years on Shoah before its release in 1985. “And I want to salute the determination, [the] courage of the people of Turkish television,” added the filmmaker.
Some suggested that the overwhelming attention paid to Turkey’s commemoration of the Holocaust reflected the troubling task that lies ahead. “Over the past 60 years, the Muslim world [has] been excluded from history learning in other parts of the world,” explained Abraham Radkin of the Aladdin project, which aims to better relations between Muslims and Jews. “So [Aladdin, who helped implement the television program, is] trying to fill a gap, a knowledge gap, and hope[s] we can promote relations between Jews and Muslims and remove some of the misunderstanding.”
Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University prodded Turkish state television to screen the Holocaust program, and explained its importance in context. “There [are] a lot of misjudgments about Judaism, about the lack of knowledge about European Jews, what happened to them in the Second World War,” Aktar told VOA News. “Turkey was a neutral country and didn’t know about much about all of this. Turkish public needs to be informed about atrocities of the 20th century.”