Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass with Sophia Stone.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the liberation, on 27 January 1945, of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. The Holocaust – the ‘systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators’ between 1933 and 1945 also targeted other groups. These included the Roma, Sinti, the disabled and homosexuals. To commemorate the Holocaust victims, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will formally address the European Parliament in a special plenary session in Brussels on 26 January 2023. President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola and President Herzog are then due to inaugurate the Holocaust Memorial in front of Parliament’s plenary chamber.
The Nazis killed the majority of European Jews, seized Jewish property, destroyed synagogues, Hebrew scripts, Jewish art and cultural property,. Not much was left of Jewish cultural heritage across Europe, not many Jews survived the Holocaust. For a decimated and traumatised Jewish population, it was difficult to claim their identity in Europe. The Holocaust strongly affected the evolution of Jewish culture.
Not bound by country borders, Jews lived for centuries across the European continent, using Hebrew for liturgical and religious purposes, often mixed with the local language. Following the Holocaust, the Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino, which originated in Spain, almost reached extinction. The Holocaust also affected the use of the Yiddish language, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers, together with Ladino, endangered. However, thanks to the courage of Jewish communities, who continue to bear witness to Jewish life and culture, as well as revived academic interest during the COVID‑19 lockdowns, there is evidence of a revival of both languages. To help keep this linguistic heritage alive, the EU continues to support their use and related cultural heritage.
Beyond preserving Jewish languages and culture, it is important to continue to inform people of what happened during the Holocaust and its aftermath. Holocaust education allows reflection on legal and ethical issues, whilst promoting critical thinking. As Holocaust denial is on the rise and conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and xenophobia take up increasing space on social media platforms, a clear view of historical events becomes increasingly important. Holocaust survivor and journalist Marian Turski’s call to ‘Never be a bystander … whenever any kind of minority is discriminated against’, serves as a reminder that everyone should speak out against discrimination. The European Union supports Holocaust education and research through numerous programmes, such as providing a handbook for teachers highlighting links between Holocaust education and human rights, or studies on antisemitism showing the growing insecurity of Jews living in the EU.
The European Parliament has adopted several resolutions on Holocaust remembrance, including an October 2018 resolution on the rise of neo-fascist violence in EU, calling attention to the rise of violence against Jews. The EU calls on EU countries to counter Holocaust denialism, and on November 2018, the EU became a permanent international partner of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (AISH).
- The European Union and Holocaust remembrance
- Jewish art collections – Nazi looting
- Ladino: Judeo-Spanish language and culture in Europe
- Yiddish language and culture and its post-Holocaust fate in Europe
- Holocaust education: ‘Never, never be a bystander’
- Holocaust denial in criminal law: Legal frameworks in selected EU Member States
- Supporting Holocaust survivors
House of European History. Thursday 26 January, 18.30-20.30 CET. Hybrid event.