Commemorating the Holocaust in revisionist times
By Ethel Brooks
This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which also marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, comes several months after Poland’s right-wing government passed a law making it illegal to use the term "Polish Death Camps", in an effort to emphasize the responsibility for the Holocaust remains that of the German Nazi regime which occupied Poland.
But banning the term points to a larger trend of Holocaust revisionism across Europe and a revival of nationalist politics whose targets range from Roma and Jews—groups targeted and murdered by the Nazis on "racial" grounds—to refugees, Muslims and other racial, national and religious minorities.
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In Croatia, Jewish and Serbian organisations are boycotting the government Holocaust commemoration ceremony at the former concentration camp of Jasenovac, where nearly 100,000 Serbs, Roma, Jews, Croats and Muslims were murdered.
They are protesting the government’s tolerance of plaques bearing the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasha slogan, "Ready for the Homeland", on former concentration camp sites, government buildings and other memorials.
The government has turned a blind eye to the widespread use of nationalist symbols linked to the regime, under which 500,000-1,000,000 were murdered in the so-called Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945).
Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orban have targeted Roma, Jews, refugees, Muslims and the LGBT community, among others, and called for a referendum last October that would block refugees from the country.
Targets remain the same
The referendum didn’t bring the needed voter turnout, but 98 percent of those who voted, voted in favour of closing doors to refugees and migrants.
The anti-migrant sentiment in Hungary has been encouraged by the government, which has also built a monument in central Budapest dedicated to the "three victim groups" of the Nazis - Jews, Roma and Hungarians - and has been producing and disseminating other revisionist histories of the Holocaust that portray Hungarians as solely victims, rather than as perpetrators or collaborators.
In the Czech Republic, where the former concentration camp at Lety has been the site of an industrial pig farm, president Zeman has been whipping up populist sentiment against Roma, Jews, refugees and Muslims and in an act of political retribution last October went so far as to withdraw a national award planned for an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor.
There is a right-wing resurgence across Europe and the world, where just this week we saw Trump’s inauguration and a meeting in Germany of Europe’s right-wing leaders, organised under the banner of "Europe of Nations and Freedom".
From Slovakia, Austria and Sweden to France, the UK, Greece and beyond, this nationalism is taking hold in the same geographical spaces as the Holocaust.
In many cases the targets remain the same - Roma, Jews and others - but Muslims, refugees and other ethnic minorities have become prime targets of xenophobic nationalism, racist violence and right-wing propaganda.
An era of building walls
All of them have been emboldened by last June’s Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States and the success of his racist, anti-immigrant political platform.
We have entered an era of building walls and securing borders, marked by racism, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic politics.
Much of the current political climate across the world is marked by xenophobia that has been unseen since the Nazi era.
Holocaust commemoration, education and research are more important than ever. Commemoration includes recognition of Romani and Jewish histories of persecution, remembering how dangerous it is to turn away refugees and build walls between communities.
In the face of nationalist revisionism, Holocaust denial and anti-refugee sentiment, it is time to recommit to a politics of solidarity, anti-racism and inclusion that crosses borders on this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This recommitment honours the victims, the survivors, the families and communities who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their nationalist allies during the Holocaust.
Ethel Brooks is associate professor at Rutgers University and a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council