This year the European Parliament held its inaugural event to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
With the participation of high level dignitaries from Eastern, Western and Central Europe, the Brussels gathering established the annual event on the official EU calendar.
Tribute was paid to people who embodied principles of resistance and whose heroics and courage deserve to be memorialised and taught to future generations.
Seventy years ago, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place and the Ghetto fighters were honoured in Brussels. To understand this event, it is necessary to know about the history and development of European antisemitism, and the Nazis’ cruelty, torture, plunder and mass murder.
In an age of readily accessible documents and analyses, there is simply no excuse for anyone to not know about the Nazis’ intentions, the attempted genocide of Jewry, and the bravery of those who opposed them.
The second subject of the tribute was Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat based in Budapest during the Nazi occupation, who at great risk to (and eventual cost of) his own liberty and life, acted as a human being in a time when inhumanity was seemingly all powerful.
When Sweden held the presidency of the European Union, in 2000, it hosted the first of four major intergovernmental meetings for improving civil societies, with the focus of the initial gathering being Holocaust Education and Remembrance.
I was a member of the Australian government-appointed delegation, and I have firm memories of my discussions with diplomats, politicians and leaders of civil society from dozens of countries, all of whom argued for the urgent necessity of Holocaust education.
For most, the context was a perceived rise in the activities and appeal of nativist racist groups – many but not all of which included a strong anti-Jewish psychological element even if the physical targets were African and Asian immigrants, Muslims, Roma and other perceived outsiders.
A secondary theme in the conference was attempts to sanitise Nazi crimes by using terms such as “Holocaust”, “Hitler-like” or “Nazi” to describe banal events or simply to express political disagreement.
A number of presenters, mainly from the centre-left of the political spectrum and with no particular brief for Israel, held special animus for those who abandoned intelligent, rational or historically-sensible rhetoric and referred to Israel as Nazi-like.
This was seen as both whitewashing Nazism and as a particular antisemitic obscenity given the fact that those who survived attempted genocide were being maliciously targeted and falsely accused in a deliberately hurtful way.
In the weeks leading up to the January 27 commemoration date, we had indisputable evidence that, in Australia today, there is a clear and present need for more education and awareness.
On the website “The Conversation”, a government-supported platform for academics to convey their wisdom (and at times their ignorance and questionable intelligence), a particularly insipid piece of agitprop in support of boycotting Israel was posted. The content of that piece is addressed elsewhere, but my concern was with what happened next.
This site is moderated and one contributor to the discussion had offensive comments deleted – the comment being one that the writer of the pro-boycott piece had brought “disgrace” to the institution.
But an undeleted post read “The Israeli government actions in Palestinian areas remind me of the Krakow & Warsaw ghettoes (sic) of WWII under the Nazis”.
In case his message was unclear, the poster concluded “now the jackboot is on the Jewish foot”.
Another contributor misinformed readers that Rupert Murdoch’s “mother’s maiden name was Greenburg”, spoke of “Nazism” and “Zionism” both presenting the concepts of “super races” and made other bizarre claims.
Unfortunately, this is not unique – as any person who scrolls through comments on “ABC online” websites will know well.
The fact that there are historically ignorant, malevolent or self-opinionated bigots in our society should surprise no one. However, even if we are not surprised that they are provided free rein and empowerment by “responsible” institutions, we should be affronted, even outraged, that this occurs in a society which promotes the virtues of tolerance and anti-racism.