Minister Alan Shatter’s speech at 2014 National Holocaust Day Commemoration in Dublin
An address by Alan Shatter TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, at the National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration on Sunday, 26th January 2014 in the Mansion House, Dublin at 6.00 p.m.
We meet tonight, as we do the same time every year, to remember the 6 million Jewish people, men, women and children, who died in the Shoah, (the Holocaust) and also the other victims of the barbarism and inhumanity of Nazi Germany: the Roma and Sinti communities, Slavs, gay men, disabled persons, Jehovah Witnesses and dissidents who were murdered.
We remember the obsessive genocidal objective of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolph Hess, Adolf Eichman, and all of those who were dedicated to the elimination of European Jewry and the active complicity of their many collaborators from states across Europe who assisted the Nazis to achieve their evil goal.
We remember the Nazis murdered over 1.5 million children and, in extinguishing their lives and those of their parents, extinguished never to be conceived nor born uncountable future generations.
We remember that on average on each day of the Second World war, 3,000 Jews were murdered. But that does not tell the full story, as that average would not have been achieved without increasing the efficiency of the industrial killing machines genocidal extermination. Even when they were losing the war, the Nazis intensified their mass killing of Jews, so driven were they by their aim of turning to ashes, Jewish civilisation.
For European Jewry in mainland Europe, the entirety of the 1939-45 period, is a period of unimaginable horror and terror. It is right in this first month of 2014 that we remember that January 1944 , just 70 years ago, marked for the Jewish people, the start of another catastrophic year whilst it also laid the foundations for the wars ultimate end with an Allied victory.
On the 3rd of January 1944 Russian troops reached the former Polish border,
and the 6th of June 1944 was D-Day when Allied troops landed in Normandy.
Tragically for the Jewish people these events did not deter but spurred on
implementation of the Nazi’s “final solution”. 70 years on we remember
that in 1944 the industrial killing of Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau increased
to 10,000 human beings each day. We remember that 1944 is the year of the
deportation of over 400,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz; the year when
some 15,000 French Jews, including children, were rounded up and
transported mainly to Auschwitz. It is the year when the Lodz Ghetto, the
last Jewish ghetto in Poland, was liquidated with 60,000 Jews sent to
Auschwitz and, on the 4th August 1944, Anne Frank and her family were
arrested by the Gestapo in Amsterdam, sent to Auschwitz and Anne and her
sister later on to Bergen-Belsen where Anne Frank died of typhus on 15th
March 1945 shortly before the war’s end. We also remember that 1944 is the
year when a Red Cross delegation visited Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.
The visit took place in June 1944 after the Nazis had carefully prepared
the camp and the Jewish inmates in it for the visit. We remember that
following that visit the Red Cross published a favourable report.
In remembering the genocidal atrocities committed, it is also right that
we remember those people of courage and conviction, the righteous among
nations who placed their lives at risk to save thousands of Jewish lives.
1944 is the year when the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved nearly
30,000 Hungarian Jews and Oscar Schindler saved 1,200 Jews by moving them
from Płaszów labour camp in Kraków, Poland, to his home town of Brünnlitz.
It was also in July of 1944 that the first concentration camp was
liberated, Majdenek, by Russian troops where 360.000 had been murdered.
More liberations were to follow. Towards the end of October 1944 use of the
gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau ended and Hitler ordered the destruction
of the crematoria on 25th November 1944. At the end of 1944 the allies
were poised on the Rhine, Danube, and Vistula. The end of the war and the
defeat of Hitler was in sight. It was a time of hope but too many, not yet
liberated, did not survive to see their hopes fulfilled.
Irish Jewry escaped the Shoah. However, the then Irish Jewish community
was not forgotten by those who so meticulously planned the final solution.
It was numbered and expressly prescribed for elimination on a map prepared
by Adolf Eichmann that can today be viewed in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
Memorial, in Jerusalem. It is right that we remember that many of those
from the Jewish community present here this evening and the children,
grandchildren, and great grandchildren which form part of the Irish Jewish
Diaspora across the world would never have been born had the Allied Forces
It was for too long easily forgotten that 60,000 citizens of the neutral
Irish Free State joined the Allied Forces to fight against tyranny during
World War Two, amongst them over 5,000 who deserted our own Defence Forces
to do so. I believe that the legislation I brought before the Dáil last
year and which was enacted with the full support of my Cabinet colleagues
and the Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas to extend to all of those
who deserted an amnesty and forgiveness by the State for their desertion
was a long overdue recognition by this State of the important role that
they played. As Minister for Defence, I believe it is right that desertion
by any member of our Defence Forces be treated as a serious offence but it
is also right and just that we finally recognised the unprecedented
extenuating circumstances of that time, the morality of their actions and
expressed our gratitude. Although this gesture on behalf of the State
came too late for most of the war veterans, I know it is of importance to
their families and descendents.
We remember also the survivors who have carried through their lives the
burden of the terrible memories of what they saw and experienced,
acknowledge the courage of those who have told their stories and have had
the strength to bear witness so that we know today of the horrors of a past
which must never be repeated. Among us tonight we are privileged to have
Tomi Reichental, Jan Kaminski and Inge Radford. I want to thank each of
you for your generosity for sharing your experiences with the wider
community and also thank Susi Diamond who cannot be with us. We owe a great
debt of gratitude to the survivors for their bravery in reliving
unimaginable memories for the good of others and for ensuring that today’s
generations know and understand the evil they experienced in the early years of their lives.
We live in a complex and difficult world in which historical fact can be distorted and contaminated and become an inconvenient truth should it challenge a contemporary political narrative in which some have a vested interest. Holocaust denial is the favourite sport of some, in particular in Europe, and in the Middle East. It is the first cousin of those who still see Jews, for no reason other than they are Jewish, as legitimate targets for hate speech and random violence and of extremists who would, if they could, bring about a second Holocaust by the extermination of the 6 million Jews who today are citizens of the State of Israel. As Europeans, and European nations, we must give no comfort to those who express such views, engage in such conduct, or who have any such objective. We should also have a greater understanding of legitimate concerns aroused by threats made to eliminate the Israeli state and by political campaigns sponsored by states or others to delegitimize its existence. It is right that we remember that Israel declared its independence in 1948, its existence as a state having been first sanctioned and endorsed by United Nations Resolution, and that a majority of that states citizens in 1948 were Jews who would likely have perished in Europe had they not resided there in the preceding decades and remnants of European Jewry who survived the Holocaust.
It is also right that we remember that too many in a position of political leadership turned their backs on the Jews of Germany during the early years of Nazi repression and utterly failed to address the peril in which they found themselves. Hitler almost succeeded in his objective to make Europe “Juden Frei”. In today’s Europe, political leaders should be conscious of Europe’s history and past failures and be slow to endorse or advocate, that any part of the Middle East be rendered entirely “Juden Frei” as the primary focus of any conflict resolution process. The tragic truth of course, is that today many parts of that region are “Juden Frei” and that Jewish communities that flourished for countless generations no longer exist.
In Ireland, it is right that we remember that the doors of this State were kept firmly closed to Jewish families who desperately sought to come here from Germany for sanctuary during the Nazi terror of the 1930s. They substantially remained closed even after the concentration camps were liberated and emaciated survivors staggered traumatised through the opened gates. We recall, with moral revulsion, the advices in December 1938 of Charles Bewley, the then Irish minister plenipotentiary in Berlin, and a rabid anti-Semite, to the Irish Government. Endorsing the Nazi narrative, supporting the Fuhrer’s objective of “the elimination of the Jewish element from the public life of Germany” and all of the restrictions imposed on German Jewry, he advised that the “Jewish problem” was best left to be dealt with by “individual governments” stating that “not only in Germany but in every state where they exist in any quantity, the Jews are regarded as an alien body”. Stating that “every state which has experience of Jews, including those with Catholic clergyman at their head, finds it necessary to introduce similar special measures restricting their activities” he stated he was “not aware” of any “cases of deliberate cruelty” on the part of the German government towards Jews and complained of “the complete want of proportion” in the “importance ascribed to events in Germany” by British and Irish papers critical of Jewish persecution.
As Europeans we have an obligation to ensure the Shoah is not denied, falsified, trivialised or relativised in a time when the e-book version of Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a best seller. We condemn the recent falsifying remarks of Sandor zakaly- the director of the new government created historical institute misnamed “Veritas” in Hungary describing the 1941 deportation of Jewish people to Ukraine as “a police action against aliens”. It was, in fact, in July and August of 1941 the rounding up and deportation to German held territory in Ukraine of about 18.000 foreign born Jewish people who had sought refuge in Hungary at the outbreak of the Second World War. Most of them were included among the more than 23,000 Jewish people murdered by the Nazis at the end of 1941.
We must always recognise and act upon our sacred duty to challenge those who still propagate the endemic anti-Semitic hatred and prejudice cultivated in parts of Europe during past centuries which resulted in the unimaginable genocidal obscenity of the Holocaust.
Today we remind ourselves that the Shoah was the lethal poisonous fruit of anti-Semitism. We recall that it was an unfolding constellation of evil events from the Nuremberg laws of 1933 to the ghettos and the slave labour and death camps. The unfolding evil of the Shoah began not in the death camps but with anti-Semitic hate speech.
As Europeans, we must confront the rise in anti Semitism, xenophobia, racism, homophobia and hate crimes. In Europe, the economic crisis has spawned new parties and revitalised pre-existing parties of the extreme right whose anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric is both corrosive and dangerous. For example, in Greece we have Golden Dawn; in Hungary, Jobbik; in France the National Front; in Bulgaria Ataka and the Bulgarian National Party; and in Britain the British National Party and UKIP. Unfortunately, some of these are no longer on the fringes of political life and there is growing concern over the level of support they will attract in the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections. This legitimate concern is partly fuelled by the failure of Governments and mainstream parties in Europe to confront and denounce the prejudice they pedal and by their partial embrace of a xenophobic agenda.
It is not enough that we remember the Holocaust we must also remember the moral imperative to act to unequivocally repudiate the reprehensible rhetoric of those who contaminate our political discourse and attempt to inflame dangerous prejudice.
Central to the values of the European Union are the principles of democracy, equality and human rights. During Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union, as Minister for Justice and Equality, together with the extraordinary and dedicated public servants in my Justice Department, I worked to ensure that there was a greater focus by the European Union on the taking of coordinated action at European Union level in this area. We initiated a debate on a working mechanism to better support the protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law in member states.
Along with several other member states and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Ireland is involved in a cooperative project to identify a methodology which will enable us to measure adherence to the rule of law and our shared EU values across all member states. I believe that doing so has a vital role to play in protecting the fundamental rights of all EU residents and in tackling extreme intolerance across the European Union.
The need for this was starkly illustrated by a report on anti-Semitism published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in November last. A shocking 76% of Jewish people surveyed across EU member states felt that anti-Semitism has worsened in the past 5 years. Over half of the respondents had encountered first hand experience of Holocaust denial within the previous year and a third had suffered some form of anti-Semitic harassment within the previous 5 years. Amongst those surveyed 29% stated they were considering emigrating from the EU member state in which they and their families were resident. (I find none of this surprising in the context of my own personal experience of the racist and prejudiced online commentary which all too frequently results on occasions when I am in the public eye.)
Today’s ceremony is about remembrance and I firmly believe remembrance must be active, not passive. Remembrance is an act, a deliberate undertaking, and remembering the Shoah must remain a moral duty. That duty requires that we do everything we can to honour the victims of the past by working to prevent similar horrors in the future.
Today, we remember those whose lives were taken. We remember those who suffered. We remember those who fought back. We honour the survivors whose strength and bravery helps us in our duty of remembrance. We also acknowledge the pivotal importance of education in relation to the Shoah and of teaching in our schools this dark shameful chapter in European history.
Education is vital to protect, in the face of irrational prejudice, every person’s fundamental human right to be treated as a moral equal. Striving to counteract forgetfulness in relation to the Shoah requires actively fostering mutual respect and concern for all people. I acknowledge that the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland plays an important role in preserving memory of the Shoah and in promoting equal concern and respect for all persons. It is assisted in this important work by financial support from the Department of Justice and Equality and such support will continue.
Faithful to this fundamental moral purpose, we commit ourselves to advancing the universal human rights of all people. We reject words of hate and the denial of historical facts whose sole objective is to deny to the Jewish people their right to a secure place on this planet without fear of persecution or extermination. We recognise also our obligation to treat others as we wish to be treated, to respect their human rights and to do what we can to prevent and resolve conflict. We remember the murdered millions who died what the Jewish poet Wladyslaw Szlengel called “a garbage death” and say “Never again”. To the murdered millions, who were denied “zechut” or the reward of a full life, we solemnly accord “zachor”, remembrance. And we insist on the essential moral message that preventing new barbarities is not just the responsibility of others but is the responsibility of each of us – one by one – and of all of us together from generation to generation (l’dor vador).