Holocaust Remembrance Day: A Litmus Test of the Trump Administration’s Approach to the Remembrance and Management of Mass Atrocities

On Holocaust Remembrance Day Trump’s White House issued a statement condemning Nazi terror and resolving to prevent generalized atrocities in the future. The statement, however, did not mention Jews or antisemitism. This omission raised eyebrows. Upon questioning, a spokeswoman for Trump’s administration cited inclusivity of and sensitivity to all of the groups that perished under Nazi brutality as the cause for ambiguity in the aforementioned statement. The spokeswoman directed attention to an article that discussed the killing of six million Jews as well as the killing of  “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters” under the Nazi regime.

While these groups were Nazi targets, no group was targeted as indiscriminately as the Jews. Antisemitism produced a unique brand of blind hatred. At the Holocaust Remembrance Day event held on January 26th in the Twin Cities, Patrick Desbois – a French Catholic priest known for his work identifying sites of genocidal violence and author of The Holocaust by Bullets – explained that Jewishness was a source of unequivocal condemnation. “Never was there a Jewish child too young or a Jewish woman too old for the Nazis to destroy,” he said.

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Father DesBois at Beth El Synagogue on January 26th, 2017 (Photo Credit: JCRC)

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Lest We Forget…

unnamedIn 1999 Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and a member of the Green Party with strong pacifist roots, used the phrase “Never Again Auschwitz” to support German military intervention during the Kosovo crisis. In 2005, at the main ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the Red Army for “liberating Europe” (an assertion that obviously did not resonate positively among Poles). In the summer of 2014 Turkish President Recep Erdoğan slammed Israel for betraying the memory of the Holocaust by “acting like Nazis” during the operation against Hamas in Gaza. At the same time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked the Holocaust to warn the world of a nuclear Iran.

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Bearing Witness

We will have the thankless task of proving to a world which will refuse to listen, that we are Abel, the murdered brother.
                      – Ignasy Shiper (historian, killed at Majdanek in 1943)

adff11ac-9845-48f2-b73e-6cda63e8103eIn his acclaimed book Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi recounts a recurring dream he and other inmates had in the Nazi death camp: that he returned home to his family and told them about it, but nobody listened. “The person standing in front of me doesn’t stay to hear, turns around and goes away,” he writes.

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Memory Since Day One

66.jpgOn April 19th, 1945, only a few days after American troops had liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, thousands of survivors gathered at its Appellplatz (the roll call square) and took the following oath: “We will not stop fighting until the last perpetrator is brought before the judges of the people! Our watchword is the destruction of Nazism from its roots. Building a new world of peace and freedom is our goal. This is our responsibility to our murdered comrades and their relatives.”

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