Who remembers Jan Zwartendijk?

January 27, 2014

* Tom Gross: There are some who say, haven’t we heard enough about the Holocaust? What more is there to learn? I take the opposite view – that collectively the world has not studied it nearly enough, and has not properly learned its lessons. If it had, anti-Semitism wouldn’t once again be rife in so many countries, including European ones.

* How many, for example, know of Chelmno, the first extermination camp set up on European soil, in 1941, which served as a model for later camps, where at least 200,000 Jews were killed and only three survived? Or Belzec, where 500,000 Jews were murdered and only two survived?

* How many know of Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch representative for Philips in Lithuania, who saved more than 1,200 Jews? Or the French Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where the entire population shielded hundreds of Jews from surrounding villages, hiding them in their homes?

 

 

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

The UN, EU and various other countries today mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (January 27 marks the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945.)

The January 27 commemoration was started in 2005 after the UN General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. (The victims of other atrocities, such as the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, are also remembered on Holocaust Memorial Day. In Europe, the day is used to teach children and young adults that hatred can lead to suffering and tragedy.)

Israel has for decades marked Yom HaShoah in April, and some other countries have an annual day of remembrance on other dates. For example, France recalls the Holocaust on July 16, the date on which the French police and secret service – not Germans – organized the mass round-up of Parisian Jews, who were taken to the Vélodrome d’hiver, and then on to their extermination – events depicted in the 2010 film Sarah’s Key, which I would recommend watching.

Today, more than 500 members of parliaments from around the world and Holocaust survivors will gather for a memorial at Auschwitz. They will include 60 (i.e. half) the members of the Israeli Knesset, more than 100 Polish* MPs, eight members of the U.S. Congress, and a number of British MPs. (On the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation nine years ago, 1,500 survivors were in attendance. By the 65th anniversary, there were only 150. One dies every hour.)

Below I attach a short piece I have written for the British magazine Standpoint, which argues that, far from knowing too much about Holocaust, we don’t know enough.

 

(* In case we think that all is now well in Poland, only last week a Polish prosecutor ruled that the mass chanting by Polish football fans of the slogans “Jews Auschwitz is your home, all Poland knows that” and “Jews to the gas” was NOT anti-Semitic.)


STILL SO MUCH TO LEARN

Still so much to learn
By Tom Gross
Standpoint magazine (London)
January / February 2014 edition

http://standpointmag.co.uk/counterpoints-january-february-14-holocaust-amnesia-tom-gross-holocaust-memorial-day.

Holocaust Memorial Day falls again on January 27. It is the ninth consecutive year that this (in many ways uniquely) evil event is being officially commemorated in Britain and the EU.

Predictably there are voices – including some Jewish – who say, haven’t we heard enough about the Holocaust? What more is there to learn?

I take the opposite view – that collectively the world has not studied it nearly enough, and has not properly learned its lessons. If it had, anti-Semitism wouldn’t once again be rife in so many countries, including European ones.

And if it had, I don’t think President Assad of Syria could have used chemical weapons to kill 1,429 civilians, including hundreds of children, in a suburb of his own capital last August, without punitive action being taken by the world in response.

But of course Assad’s actions can’t compare in scale and systematic dehumanisation with the genocide carried out by the Nazis and their helpers from every country in Europe (including British subjects in Guernsey and Jersey).

For decades the subject was all but ignored by the film and publishing industries – Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi were among those who struggled to find publishers. Eventually, books were published, films were made, and – decades late – Holocaust museums opened and memorials erected.

And because there are still so many amazing stories to be told there are still more remarkable films being made. In Darkness, released in 2012, about the only group of Jews to survive the war alive in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Europe, was to my mind in some ways even more impressive than Schindler’s List or The Pianist.

Next year’s Cannes Film Festival will see the release of The Zookeeper’s Wife, the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who saved 300 Jewish adults and children from the Nazis by hiding them in animal cages at Warsaw Zoo, in what has been described as a kind of modern-day “Noah’s Ark”.

And there is so much more we don’t know. How many, for example, know of Chelmno, the first extermination camp set up on European soil, in 1941, which served as a model for later camps? The Nazis killed at least 200,000 Jews there, as they experimented with the most efficient ways to kill en masse. Only three Jews survived Chelmno. Few of the murderers were ever punished.

How many know of Belzec, where Ukrainian SS units, under the command of Germans, murdered 500,000 Jews and only two survived? The lack of survivors is a prime reason why this camp is so little-known, despite the enormous number of victims. But we know exactly what went on there because the Nazis – proud of how many people they were exterminating – kept meticulous records.

How many realise that when Europeans wanted to save their fellow citizens, they often could have done so? For example, in Lithuania, where 95 percent of the country’s Jews were killed – often by Lithuanians working with the Nazis – Jan Zwartendijk, the Dutch representative for Philips’ plants in Lithuania, saved more than 1,200 Jews. He refused to leave when he was recalled, and instead (having persuaded the Dutch government-in-exile to appoint him consul in Kaunas) frantically began issuing exit permits to Jews for the Dutch West Indies.

An orphanage and school in Israel are named after Zwartendijk, but right up to his death in 1976 few were interested in him in his native Holland, and Lithuania only begrudgingly acknowledged his deeds in September 2012.

Or who knows that, while French police were helping the Nazis round up Jews in the rest of France, in the Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon the entire population (under the guidance of the local priest) shielded hundreds of Jews from surrounding villages, hiding them in their homes? Then French President Jacques Chirac only officially recognised the heroism of the town in 2004, and it was not until last summer that a museum commemorating its wartime courage finally opened.

***

Also republished by arrangement between Standpoint and The Commentator here, with comments:

http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4595/holocaust_amnesia.

 


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