Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, came under fire from Israeli intellectuals yesterday (26 January) for comparing the Nazi genocide with Communist oppression ahead of a Holocaust remembrance day in Auschwitz.
"It is inconceivable that the ceremony at Auschwitz will feature an address by a Parliament president who entertains initiatives meant to efface and obfuscate the Holocaust," said Shimon Samuels, director for international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
Efraim Zuroff, who heads the centre's Israel office, said Buzek's statement was part of efforts to "create an historical and intellectual infrastructure to undermine and eventually cancel the current status of the Shoah as a unique case of genocide".
Professor Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University said Buzek’s comparison should be seen as part of "a campaign to marginalise the Holocaust".
The criticism was voiced ahead of Buzek's speech at Auschwitz-Birkenau, to be delivered on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the camp's liberation today (27 January).
The site, located in the Polish town of Oświęcim, was the largest extermination camp of the Second World War. An estimated 1.1 million people died there, 90% of whom were Jews.
High-ranking politicians from many countries, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some 200 members of the European and national parliaments are expected to attend the ceremonies.
Critics say that Buzek apparently disregarded the fact that in many European countries, the Communists were at the forefront of the struggle against fascism. The European centre-left called for a more nuanced reading of history and exposed "talibans" from the European centre-right, who they said were motivated by ideology rather than common sense.
In a statement released ahead of the Auschwitz commemoration, Buzek appeared to pre-empt potential attacks by stressing the unique nature of the Holocaust.
"The Shoah is unique and the most tragic case of genocide in the history of mankind," he said, adding: "Remembering about Auschwitz and taking care that a similar tragedy never happens in the future is the responsibility of every European politician".
Buzek became the first Polish prime minister to participate in the March of the Living at Auschwitz in 1998, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, who has since returned to power.
Moreover, Buzek wants remembrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau to be among the highlights of his two-and-a-half year mandate, a Polish source at the European Parliament told EurActiv.
In a speech marking International Holocaust Memorial Day, European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot said "we have a duty to remember the loss of life and the suffering caused by this unprecedented crime in history. This legacy must be passed to future generations as a memento".
"Remembrance of the Shoah must strengthen our determination to fight, in today's world, against the phenomena that several decades ago led the world into the abyss of the Holocaust," said Barrot, adding that "data collected by the Fundamental Rights Agency, member states' institutions and civil society confirm that anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia alongside many other forms of intolerance, such as homophobia, have not disappeared from Europe".
"I recall today the European Commission's firm rejection of these repugnant phenomena. There is no place for any of them in the EU, nor anywhere in the world," Barrot concluded.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said in a statement: ""All generations must remember what happened at Auschwitz-Birkenau, we must never forget. The Shoah is unique and the most tragic case of genocide in the history of mankind. Remembering about Auschwitz and care that a similar tragedy never happens in the future is the responsibility of every European politician."
Calling on Europe "not to lose sight of the intitial significance of remembrance work and to tackle increasing racism and xenophobia across Europe, including anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsysm, colour racism and Islamophboia," the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) stressed the need to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be taken into account today.
ENAR called for further research to be carried out to uphold the memory of other "forgotten" communities exterminated by the Nazis, like the Roma people.
"'Never again' was the promise made after the tragedy of the Holocaust, but the current climate in the EU points to increasing manifestations of the racism and discrimination which can become the building blocks of genocide. Increasing hate crimes against Roma, the violation of migrants' basic human rights, rising Islamophobia - these are just some examples of the forms of racism which need to be addressed in Europe today," siad ENAR President Mohammed Aziz.