While You Focus on Ukraine, This Genocide Goes On

The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world and rightly so. But what about Ethiopia, China, Yemen, Syria and Myanmar, countries in which atrocities which are no less serious are being committed? Why is the world not holding its breath, opening its heart and swiftly reacting for them too?

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-while-you-focus-about-ukraine-the-genocide-in-myanmar-goes-on-1.10703741

STOCKHOLM — Last week U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, declared that the United States recognizes that the Myanmar military has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the country’s Rohingya minority. The murder of thousands and deportation of hundreds of thousands was mostly committed in 2016-2017, but according to Blinken, the troubling situation in Myanmar continues to this day, after the military seized power in 2021. Blinken spoke of “widespread and systematic” attacks and atrocities committed with the clear intent to annihilate.

This is the eighth case since the Holocaust in which the United States recognizes a genocide. The previous were the Armenian genocide during World War I, the murder of Kurds in Iraq, the genocides in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in Darfur, the murder of the Yazidis and other minorities by the Islamic State, and the genocide in Xinjiang, China, against Uyghurs and other minorities. In his speech, Blinken described the process preceding the murders – discrimination, stripping of rights and citizenship, incitement, imprisonment and deportation. He further went on to detail some of the atrocities – rape, executions, destruction of villages, children burned alive or trampled underfoot by soldiers, and boats sunk with families aboard.

Despite the importance of the U.S. declaration, it is not a necessarily a call for sanctions, nor does it come with an automatic international alignment against the regime in Myanmar. All this stands in sharp contrast to the U.S. attitude toward Russia following its attack on Ukraine. It may be hard to admit, but Ukraine gets a lot more attention than countries where the suffering, devastation and death toll are no smaller. Those imprisoned and tortured in camps in Xinjiang, the ethnic groups slaughtering each other in Ethiopia, and those doing the same even closer to Israel’s border – none of these affairs have made the world hold its breath, open its heart, or change its agenda.

Why, then, does the Myanmar genocide fail to produce headlines and reactions as strong as those sparked by the brutal invasion of Ukraine? It’s not because it it's over. The regime in Myanmar continues to oppress its people and imprison its critics. It is also hard to explain the indifference by geo-political considerations. While the effects of the Ukraine war could be disastrous, what’s happening in Myanmar isn’t a small, localized conflict either. The Russians sell weapons to the regime. The Chinese, who do so as well, share a border with Myanmar, and have massive investments there. Not far from the border, in Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya populate the world’s largest refugee camp. International institutions, organizations, and courts are also involved in the conflict. Myanmar may not have nuclear weapons, but it is a larger and more populous country than Ukraine, located in a strategic area between India and China. One would have to be blind or disingenuous not to recognize the simple truth behind the world’s silence and indifference.

After all, it's quite natural. The Rohingya, the Uighurs, and the Tigrayans are not like us. They are distant, alien, and most of us know very little about them. Unlike the Ukrainian refugees on the news, they carry colorful wheeled suitcases with them, not rag bundles. They sit en-route to the border in Mazdas and Toyotas, not on donkeys or in rickety boats. They’re the ones wearing H&M clothes, not those manufacturing them. They are the people for whom Hungary and Poland throw their gates open, not those for whom these countries erect barbed-wire fences and station armed soldiers. It’s very human, and therefore we can, and should, admit: The Ukrainians resemble Europeans, and that's at least one reason that Europeans have opened their hearts. Nor is moral preaching called for. Human empathy is differential. Our emotional connection to our family, our tribe, and our people is an integral part of our civilization. It is a survival tool and a source of beauty and cultural richness, not just an excuse for indifference.

Yet there is also no need to make an ideology of it. We are allowed, are able, and should do for those who are different from us, for those who are foreign and distant, and this is no mere slogan. Here are two examples:

Blinken chose to recognize the genocide in Myanmar at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, of all places, because denial is an integral part of any genocide. The purpose of the denial is not just concealment of the crime, but also denial of the very existence of the annihilated group. That is why recognizing a genocide is not only necessary to rescue or punishment – it is an act of redemption and of struggle against the murderers.

-The book “The Voice of Thy Brother’s Blood” (Dror Lanefesh Press), an anthology of poetry by victims of genocide, including those in Myanmar, was recently published in Hebrew. The book, which also includes “The Poem of the Murdered Jewish People” by Yitzhak Katzenelson, shows that even when our sympathy is turned first to Jews and Israelis, we can also hear the poetry of others, teach it in schools, read it at ceremonies, and thus aid the victims and fight the murderers by, in a way, bringing the dead back to existence.

No less important: Decent people must ask themselves what part their country plays in the misfortune of others. In the case of Israel and Myanmar, the answer is clear. The Myanmar military is equipped, among others, by Israeli weapons, which it continued purchasing until at least 2018. Because it's so obvious, it may be unnecessary to mention the tragic aspect of the Jewish state exporting arms that assist in a genocide. But it is, however, necessary to fight  this phenomenon. Israeli NGO "YANSHUF – Arms Exports: Transparency and Oversight" does just that, promoting legislation against weapons exports to homicidal regimes. Israel is one of the world’s largest weapons exporters. It is not a signatory on the Arms Trade Treaty, and it sells weapons to murderous regimes as well. We should support YANSHUF’s struggle to promote legislation on the subject and by this help prevent the next genocide.

Swedish city associated with Jewish hate crimes prepares to host global forum on antisemitism

The mayor of Malmö says her city is working hard with the Jewish community to combat antisemitism, and welcomes the arrival this week of the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium.HIGHLIGHT-her-city-was-called-an-antisemitism-capital-this-mayor-is-fighting-to-change-that-1.10282224

David Stavrou, STOCKHOLM

The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism takes place in southern Sweden this Wednesday, 21 years after the original Stockholm International Forum which led to the foundation of what is now known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Like that first forum, this one too, aims to bring the issues of Holocaust remembrance and antisemitism to the world’s attention. This time, world leaders and representatives of private and civil society organizations will engage in an “action-oriented” program, after delegations were invited to present pledges of “concrete steps forward in the work on Holocaust remembrance and the fight against antisemitism.” 

The Swedes’ decision to host the forum in Malmö has raised a few eyebrows. It is true that the city has a unique history when it comes to the Holocaust. This is where Danish Jews arrived after crossing the Öresund strait when they were fleeing the Nazis in 1943. This is also where the Swedish Red Cross’ legendary “White Buses” arrived in 1945, carrying survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. However, it is also true that in the eyes of many in recent years, Malmö has become a symbol of a new kind of Swedish antisemitism. Earlier this year, a report commissioned by the municipality described Malmö schools as an unsafe environment for Jewish students, who have to contend with verbal and physical attacks while teachers prefer to avoid conflict with the aggressors. It has also been reported in the Swedish media that Holocaust survivors are no longer invited to tell their stories in certain schools because Muslim students treat them disrespectfully. 

But it is not only the schools. In 2009, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the local Jewish funeral home. There have also been numerous physical and verbal attacks against Jews in the city over the past decade, while several pro-Palestinian demonstrations were documented as featuring heavily antisemitic slogans, signs and rhetoric. It has also been reported that Jewish families have left Malmö because they no longer felt safe there. 

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, 47, has been the city’s mayor since 2013. She’s a member of the Social Democratic Party, which has been in power locally since the mid-1990s, and is the first woman to hold the most powerful post in Sweden’s third largest city. Her name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office at the national level, too, though she recently told the local press that she still has work to do in Malmö. In recent years, her main challenges have been unemployment, segregation and organized crime. 

“Antisemitism can be found everywhere and Malmö isn’t vaccinated against it,” says Stjernfeldt Jammeh in an interview, “but it’s a problem we’re addressing. We talk about it more today and, when you talk about it, it seems like it’s a bigger problem than it does if you don’t talk about it. But for me, [the image] is not important. The only thing that’s important is that we attack the problem and create change.” This attitude contrasts with that of Stjernfeldt Jammeh’s predecessor. In 2010, then-Mayor Ilmar Reepalu was quoted as telling a local daily: “We accept neither Zionism nor antisemitism. They are extremes that put themselves above other groups, and believe they have a lower value.” Reepalu also criticized Malmö’s Jewish community for supporting Israel. This was during a period of violent pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Malmö, the most famous being during a tennis match between Sweden and Israel when thousands of protesters clashed with the police. 

Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh

While Stjernfeldt Jammeh says that antisemitism can be found everywhere, citing cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Gothenburg, she also notes that Malmö has its own unique circumstances. “Malmö is a small and dense city with a population that comes from all over the world, living in a very small area,” she says. “The problem is more visible than in other places, and we face it in many different ways.” Asked to detail what the city has done to confront the problem in the eight years she has been in charge, she says she has been “working to combat antisemitism and racism since the day I was elected by working with our citizens in various different set-ups. We’ve been working with the Jewish community in several ways to map the problem, to create an understanding of the problem and, today, we have a long-term commitment. We’re investing more than 2 million Euros ($2.3 million) over four years". 

“This is not just a small project this year or next year: it’s a commitment to work in the long-term to create better conditions for the [Jewish] congregation, to enhance security and create knowledge,” Stjernfeldt Jammeh adds. “We’re also working within our school system, mapping the problem there too, and creating different ways to prevent prejudice.”

‘Important discussions’ 

Ann Katina, chairwoman of Malmö’s Jewish community, and Fredrik Sieradzki, manager of the Jewish Communities' Learning Center that is about to be opened, say they enjoy a good relationship with the mayor and that she’s “doing a lot in this area,” especially in the past couple of years. According to both, there were intensive meetings during 2019 that led to the major 2-million-Euro investment and a long-term cooperation agreement between the community and the municipality, which, among other things, helps with the struggle against antisemitism. 

Fredrik Sieradzki, Photo: Josefin Widell Hultgren

The cooperation with the Jewish community isn’t the only strategy Stjernfeldt Jammeh is using. There are other partners too. “We’re working with the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism to arrange trips to the concentration camps, which create important discussions leading to change and awareness,” the mayor says. “We’ve also being working for several years with our local soccer club, because it reaches a lot of our youth outside the schools and can help with the work against racism and antisemitism. We also support interreligious cooperation to create dialogue and mutual understanding. We work hard, we’re certainly not done this year or next year as it’s a long-term challenge to create trust and mutual understanding.”

The recent flare-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza once again reignited tensions in the city’s schools, with Jewish children facing attacks both in the classroom and online. Stjernfeldt Jammeh says the municipality is working to combat antisemitism in schools. “We mainly support teachers and help them to handle these kinds of issues and handle discussions in the schools that are really infected.” She mentions cooperation with the Jewish community again and talks about the work of Miriam Katzin, a special coordinator who the city appointed to work on the problem of antisemitism in Malmö’s schools. She also notes the Jewish community learning centre that is opening soon and will be working with local schools. 

“We’re launching the Jewish Learning Center, which aims to broaden education about Jewish civilization, as well as antisemitism and the Holocaust, mainly among schoolchildren and youngsters,” confirms Katina. “Another purpose of the cooperation is strengthening Jewish identity and increasing the opportunity for the inhabitants of Malmö to engage with Jewish culture. We can see that Jewish culture is getting more attention.”  

Ann Katina, Foto: Daniel Nilsson

‘Huge issue’

Helena Nanne is deputy chairman of the center-right Moderate Party in City Hall, and is somewhat skeptical regarding the steps the municipality has taken. “It’s obvious we have a huge issue with antisemitism and it’s affecting people’s everyday lives in Malmö,” she says. “For families with children at school, the situation with antisemitism is a major issue, and we hear stories of families who choose to move because they don’t feel safe and can’t be sure the school will be safe for their children. So, some move to Stockholm or other places where they feel safer. We don’t have statistics, but parents are telling us that they’re moving.”

She continues: “The [municipality-commissioned] report about the schools was a good thing to do. But as far as we can see, it’s only a report. We haven’t seen any action. We hear stories about children being beaten up at school because they’re Jewish. We have a serious problem with school discipline, and this is an extreme example of it. We want to see a zero-tolerance policy toward these issues, but we don’t – and it’s worse for the children who come from a Jewish background.” 

Helena Nanne

Sieradzki says antisemitism was always around in Sweden, but the profile of the offender has changed over the years. In the 1950s and ’60s it was everyday Swedes, although at that time it was a relatively fringe occurrence compared to the last 15 to 20 years. Then came the neo-Nazis and, when it comes to Malmö today, Sieradzki says the antisemitic offenders are “predominantly young people with roots in the Middle East, who are responsible mainly for verbal assaults, threats and attacks via social media.” 

“It’s important to stress that we’re not talking about everybody from that background,” Sieradzki adds. “We can see how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict casts a shadow in Malmö, and that’s why we’ve been working together with Muslim youth – especially through the organization Amanah, formed by our rabbi, Moshe David HaCohen, and imam Salahuddin Barakat, to create trust and understanding between Muslims and Jews. Salahuddin Barakat has the support of a number of mosques in Malmö for his work, and particularly in schools.

“We’ve been very clear about the situation since 2010, when we started to speak to the Swedish media about the problems,” Sieradzki says. “We were very clear then – as we are now – that we’re talking about some, not all Muslims or Arabs.” When asked about this sensitive issue, Stjernfeldt Jammeh adds another perspective. “It’s not that sensitive,” she responds. “It’s important to see that lots of Muslim leaders, imams and different community leaders condemn antisemitism and take part in events in memory of the Holocaust. For several years now, Muslim leaders in Malmö have been standing side by side with Jewish leaders. This is important. We have a problem with extremism, radicalism and violence, and it’s important to know that lots of Muslim leaders take a stand against this and against antisemitism. It’s also important to know that Muslims in Malmö suffer from racism and Islamophobia, and that members of the Jewish community stand side by side with them.” 

Of course, like elsewhere, antisemitism in Malmö comes from many directions. Sweden has several extremist and neo-Nazi groups that have threatened members of the Jewish community in recent years, while antisemitic statements have also been made on the left – including by members of Stjernfeldt Jammeh’s own party. Apart from her predecessor’s controversial legacy, leaders of the Social Democrats’ local youth wing have been accused of antisemitic statements and actions, as were various other party members. They were strongly condemned by Stjernfeldt Jammeh and by national party leader and prime minister, Stefan Löfven. “This city is run by a party that has had a problem with antisemitism in its own organization,” charges Nanne. “It’s hard to take commitments they make seriously.” 

Stjernfeldt Jammeh acknowledges that her party is not antisemitism-free – “We’re not vaccinated against it, and no other party is either” – but says that "It's important to always react when you see antisemitism" and notes that every elected representative of her party is required to sit with the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism and be educated about the problem.

Opportunity to share experiences

This week’s Holocaust forum will put the city in the spotlight regarding the fight against antisemitism, and Stjernfeldt Jammeh says she welcomes the attention. “One of our main goals today is to work hard to create an open, safe and inclusive city for all our citizens. We’re a young and very globally connected city; we have citizens who come from 180 different countries and we live very closely together. We’re addressing these issues; we’re working hard and we have high ambitions when it comes to safety and inclusiveness. Since we’re aware of the problems of racism and antisemitism, it’s important for us to address them on different levels. So, when our prime minister announced that he was inviting world leaders to address these exact issues, for me this seemed like an opportunity to share our experiences and to take part in other countries’ experiences. For example, the perspective of placing a focus on the internet and online hate crimes needs to be addressed on a global level. The problems we’re facing are everywhere. We have things to learn, but we also have things to show others.”

When speaking to politicians and social leaders in the city, it’s obvious that no one thinks a one-day conference of world leaders will change things on the ground when it comes to hate crimes or antisemitic harassment. It is clear, however, that at this point, when it comes to issues like police efforts, prosecution policies, legislation against neo-Nazi groups and the spreading of online antisemitic hate, politicians on the left and right – as well as Jewish leaders – realize there is a limit to the impact of local policies and initiatives. Stjernfeldt Jammeh talks about national and international cooperation; Nanne suggests more national resources are needed for police work and even a national decision to create local police units for everyday crime such as antisemitic harassment. 

When it comes to Jews living in Malmö who have suffered and are suffering antisemitism, it’s apparent that steps have to be taken on many levels. Katina thinks Malmö is an excellent venue for the international forum. “Even if it creates a nuisance in terms of traffic and mobility in Malmö, this brings the issue of antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance to the front and center,” she says. “Hopefully it will provide energy and inspiration to different initiatives, both on the political and grassroots level.”

From the Armenian Genocide to Xinjiang, Tigray and Mynmar

No less important than recognizing a genocide: fighting the current one

President Biden's recognition of the Armenian Genocide is an important step in the struggle against mass atrocities – genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But it's far from being enough and it won't do much for those who are being persecuted, discriminated against and murdered in places like the Chinese Xinjiang province, the Tigray region in Ethiopia and Myanmar.

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-no-less-important-than-recognizing-genocide-fighting-current-ones-1.9775795

About a week before the outbreak of World War II Adolf Hitler met with his army commanders at his Bavarian Alps headquarters. At this meeting he spoke about exterminating the Poles by mercilessly killing men, women and children. There are some who say that this speech also included the rhetorical question: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’’

That statement has served as a warning and an illustration of the famous saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But that’s only one reason why it’s important. Another one is that the denial of a genocide is a part of genocide itself. It conceals the crime, exonerates the murderers and erases the victims’ existence as a group.

For those reasons, last week, many praised the U.S. president for recognizing the Armenian genocide and criticized other countries, including Israel, for not doing so because of political and economic interests. As justified as the criticism may be, and as positive as the declaration by President Biden is, we should recall that despite the importance of historical memory, there are other forces that shape the present and the future. Recognition of a genocide that took place over 100 years ago is only the first step in a long journey.

This journey passes through places like Xinjiang in northwest China, the Tigray region in Ethiopia and Myanmar. In China, members of ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs are being sent to “reeducation” camps, in which the prisoners are held without trial in grueling conditions and suffer from cruel indoctrination, torture and rape. In addition to the camps, testimonies, leaked documents, satellite photos and media reports reveal a series of other steps against the population in Xinjiang: forced labor, tight surveillance, separating children from their parents and a ban on practicing Islam. There is also evidence of medical experiments, organ harvesting and forced sterilization, all almost without intervention by the international community.

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region and in Myanmar local longstanding ethnic conflicts include horrific reports. News from Tigray in the last few months included acts of slaughter, looting, uprooting the population, deliberate starvation by burning crops, and widespread rape. In this round of the conflict the perpetrators are the Ethiopian government with the assistance of forces from Eritrea and Amharic militias. In Myanmar the second half of the previous decade saw tens of thousands of Rohingya people murdered, and hundreds of thousands persecuted and expelled. Testimonies revealed horrific acts such as setting entire villages on fire and throwing their residents into the flames, acts of gang rape, and tossing infants into the river. Since the military coup in February, the situation of the Rohingya may deteriorate even further.

The sad truth is that in the short term, the recognition of the Armenian genocide won’t help the victims in China, Ethiopia and Myanmar. History teaches that acts of genocide were not prevented in Rwanda, Kosovo, Darfur or Syria in the 1990s and 2000s despite the universal recognition of the most comprehensive genocide in history – the Holocaust. Nor did they take place due to a failure to recognize the Armenian genocide. Recognition is necessary for prevention, but it’s insufficient. In order to combat present and future genocides at least three additional elements are needed: facts, limits and institutions.

There’s a great deal of discussion about media and public discourse in the 21st century suffering from relativization and multiple narratives. In addition, some of the conflicts that lead to genocide are complex and hard to understand. The terrible result is that the murderers can always paint a picture in which they themselves are the victims. That is how reports are published, based on partial truths, maintaining that the Uighurs are fundamentalists and terrorists, the Rohingya are Muslim invaders and the Tigrayans themselves carried out acts of ethnic cleansing. Only undisputed facts and a wide context can counter the abundance of opinions and propaganda.

But facts aren’t enough. “They shall understand that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them all,” wrote Albert Camus in “The Rebel.” “Each tells the other that he is not God” (translated by Anthony Bower). In a world where Authoritarian leaders and their regimes aim to achieve absolute power, recognition of the past and understanding the present must lead to placing limitations. Wars will probably continue to accompany mankind for years to come. We must recognize that and place clear limitations on them.

This isn’t new – international treaties, institutions, courts and tribunals have tried for decades to place limitations and prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The situation of these institutions has never been worse, but even if they suffer from weakness, political biases and corruption, in the absence of a world power that is committed to putting an end to acts of horror, and is capable of doing so, the international institutions must recognize the past, discover present facts and place limitations. Nothing else will prevent the next genocide.

Sweden Hopes Its First Top-level Visit to Israel in 21 Years Will Thaw Ties

Stockholm is stepping up its efforts against anti-Semitism and hate crimes, as the foreign minister tries to mend relations with Israel. Published in Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-sweden-hopes-its-first-top-level-visit-to-israel-in-21-years-will-thaw-ties-1.8468492

STOCKHOLM – Among the dozens of world leaders who landed in Israel last week for the International Holocaust Forum, the presence of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was particularly notable. It had been 21 years since a Swedish Prime Minister had visited, and a series of diplomatic incidents in recent years only worsened the atmosphere.

The incidents included the recognition of a Palestinian state by Löfven’s government and then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s linking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to terror attacks in Paris. For nearly three years after Wallström’s comments in 2015, there were no official meetings between the two countries, with Israel repeatedly rebuffing requests by Wallström and Löfven to improve ties.

But at the end of 2017, two senior Swedish officials came to Israel: then-Parliament Speaker Urban Ahlin and then-Commerce Minister Ann Linde, who is now foreign minister. Also, Israel named a new ambassador to Stockholm, Ilan Ben-Dov, who a Swedish Foreign Ministry source says brought “a new atmosphere and approach” to bilateral relations.

Like Göran Persson, who served as Swedish prime minister from 1996 to 2006 and was considered a friend of Israel, Löfven is striving to turn Sweden into a world leader in Holocaust commemoration and the battle against anti-Semitism. At the same time, Stockholm continues to address the Palestinian issue, support the Palestinian Authority and promote the two-state solution when most of the world seems to have lost interest.

“The government stands behind the recognition of Palestine,” Linde told Haaretz last week. “The recognition was done in support of a negotiated two-state solution; one State of Israel and one State of Palestine,” she said, adding that support for the two-state solution is solid in the EU, which, like Sweden, supports the Palestinians and donates to them.

“I am very clear about my sincere ambition to further deepen and broaden the relationship with Israel,” she added. “I will continue to strive for this. We must be able to maintain an international law-based foreign policy and at the same time have a very good and constructive relationship with Israel.”
Arson and other attacks

Linde is also unequivocal about the fight against anti-Semitism. “Sweden remains deeply committed to the international fight against anti-Semitism,” she said. Asked about anti-Semitic remarks, including in her Social Democratic Party, she said: “Criticism against the Israeli government’s actions can be motivated, as against any other state, but it is never acceptable to use anti-Semitic stereotypes or to question Israel’s right to exist.”

“It could be bullying on social media and in some cases, physical attacks, even if it’s not very common,” said Aron Verständig, president of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. Firebombs have been thrown at the Gothenburg synagogue and the Malmo cemetery. There have also been arson attacks, swastika graffiti, violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis and other harassment of Jews.

These include, amongst other incidents, the Jewish cultural center in the city of Umeå closing down after receiving neo-Nazi threats, media attention which was turned towards a Jewish doctor who suffered discrimination and abuse at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital and many reports of threats, harassment and cursing at Jewish teenagers, younger children and teachers in Sweden’s schools.

But there has also been greater interest in the Holocaust and the recognition that its memory must be preserved. Over the past year numerous events in the country have focused on Holocaust commemoration and the fight against anti-Semitism. Notably, the Living History Forum, a Swedish government authority, teaches against racism and anti-Semitism and an organization named “Jewish Culture in Sweden” preserves the legacy of the Holocaust by arranging various cultural events.

The Swedish government is determined to show that it takes the issue seriously. Linde spoke about a number of steps like efforts by the Swedish police to increase funding and staffing against hate crimes, and investments in protecting Jewish institutions and other sites likely to be targets. The government has also initiated legislation against racist groups and is improving enforcement and the prosecution of hate crimes.

Efforts also include visits by legislators and school students to Auschwitz, while the Swedish education minister is cooperating with the Yad Vashem memorial and museum in Jerusalem. The Swedes are also considering building their own Holocaust museum.

For now the highlight is the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, which is scheduled for October. Löfven has invited researchers, world leaders and other representatives from some 50 countries to plan steps to help preserve the memory of the Holocaust and fight anti-Semitism. Also, last week Löfven announced that Sweden is adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Aron Verständig, president of Sweden’s Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, would like to see an even larger investment in Jewish life in Sweden but he says cooperation with the government is good. “lately it’s doing good things like arranging the international conference in Malmö and creating a new Holocaust museum”, he said.

Still, the Israeli government doesn’t seem very impressed, and ties between the countries remain cool. During his visit to Jerusalem last week Löfven didn’t meet a single Israeli official, though, granted, he wasn’t the only leader who didn’t hold meetings outside the Holocaust forum.

Foreign Minister Linde, for one, isn’t discouraged. “There is no reason why we could not have a fully normal relationship given the long-standing friendly relations between our two countries and plenty of common interests such as innovation, gender equality and the important struggle against anti-Semitism,” she said. “The prime minister’s visit to Jerusalem this week proves how important the work on combating anti-Semitism is for the Swedish government. The fact that we have different views on certain other issues should not prevent dialogue, but rather makes dialogue even more important.

Auschwitz wasn't on another planet

יום השואה הבינ"ל, גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ וראיון עם פרופ' יהודה באואר

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in English, January 2010 http://www.thelocal.se/24616/20100127/

When writing about Auschwitz, it's important to start with the obvious. The theft of the camp's notorious entrance sign was an appalling act and those who are responsible for it must be punished. In a broader context, on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 65 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is important to point out that the original camp site, along with the museum and archive which were built on it, are in need of serious renovation. If the site's educational projects, research activities and ceremonial events, are to continue, there is need of a large investment, of international support and of course, a better security system.

So much for stating the obvious.

There is however another way of looking at the theft of the sign which naturally raised many angry reactions. Interestingly enough, statements made after the event were of the kind usually made when religious sites are desecrated. It's easy to forget that Auschwitz is not a holy site. It is not a vandalized grave or a burnt down synagogue, in fact it's as far from a holy site as one can imagine. Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) may well be the largest Jewish graveyard in the world and the site where thousands of Poles, Roma, Russians and many others were murdered, but the entrance sign of the main camp, Auschwitz 1, which simply states "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work liberates) is perhaps one of most profound symbols of evil and one of the most symbolic representations of Nazism. So much so that it is almost tempting to cry out to the thieves and to all the Anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis who support them: "If you want it so badly, just go ahead and take it!"

 There is a reason why that sign is so symbolic. Auschwitz wasn't on another planet, as Jewish writer and Auschwitz survivor, Yehiel Dinur, once put it. It was made from the stuff of our very own planet. It took all the evils of this world and brought them to a new level. Though it developed new and monstrous techniques, it didn't invent anything new. It was the most accurate representation of the world view of the Nazi movement which, while being politically revolutionary, was based on old and conservative values. Like Nazism itself, Auschwitz was hierarchical, racist, and murderous all of which are typical aspects of the twentieth century. It was a world where human beings had no value, where every part of their body and belongings was used to make profit before they were annihilated. It was a world of cruelty and ruthlessness, but not less interesting, it was a world of lies. And this is where the "Work Liberates" slogan has its deeper meaning.

The lies in Auschwitz weren’t limited to the lies told to the victims who were told, for example, that they are entering the showers when they were standing at the doors of gas chambers. They were deeper, almost philosophical. Auschwitz had every aspect of human life. There was music, medicine and even a judicial system. There were work places, sex life, trade and industry. But these were all distorted. Any trace of humanity was sucked out of them. Music, for example, was transformed from an expression of beauty and human emotions to a soundtrack of slave marches and executions. In the so called "Joy Division", sex was transformed from a source of pleasure and expression of intimacy to violent and repeated rape. In the torture chambers of Block no. 11, the judicial system served might instead of right and in Dr. Mengale's Block medicine did not save lives, but practiced diabolical experiments to glorify a mythical ‘master race.’

And then there's work. Work can define us; it can give us pleasure, release our creative abilities or at least provide for us. Work can liberate. But in Auschwitz work was the exploitation of people struck by disease and hunger by corporations, some of which, sadly enough, still exist today. All this makes the stolen slogan not only cynical but also a pure symbol of everything wrong in this world. As such, perhaps we can do without it.

Many, myself included, were shocked by the theft of the sign. But was the response proportional? Is the symbol really so important? I have visited Auschwitz many times and have seen how the sign has turned into a tourist attraction and how groups of laughing teenagers from all over the world gather beneath it to have their picture taken. Visiting Auschwitz is important and Symbols are important too but they are not everything. It's important to remember that although the war ended in 1945 genocide, racism and oppression didn't. Perhaps it would be more effective if some of the attention given to the stolen sign were diverted to the atrocities in Darfur for example, or to the many cases of minority oppression and discrimination worldwide.

The Israeli historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer, who is one of the world's greatest authorities on the Holocaust, says: "There are many places in the world today where mass murder and even genocide are possible. Everyone knows about Sudan but there are other places like Burma (Myanmar) and East Congo. The situation in other regions like Iran, with its complex ethnical problems, The Balkans, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Iraq and some places in South America like Guatemala could also deteriorate into mass murder". Bauer, who is visiting Stockholm this week, serves as an senior adviser to many institutes including the Swedish Government, the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and the International Forum on Genocide Prevention. "The Holocaust was an unprecedented event because of its totality, universality and the pure ideological motives behind it", says Bauer, "But it was not unique, since it was an act of human beings on other human beings, it can happen again".

Though Bauer's work with the UN and other international organizations to prevent future crimes, may be more important to future generations than the preservation of old Nazi concentration camps, it can be claimed that the stolen sign, like the camp itself, is important as a witness of what happened and can be used in the battle against those who deny the Holocaust. There is truth in this. But there will come a day when not much will remain of the original camp. What then?

Even today parts of it are falling apart despite all preservation efforts. Like it or not, physical artifacts, just like the testimonies of living survivors, important as they are, will have a smaller role in remembering and understanding the Holocaust in the future. It is, after all, an event from the past century, and sadly its' survivors are becoming fewer and fewer. Camps like Treblinka and Sobibor were totally destroyed and many documents and artifacts are already lost. Future discussion about the Holocaust will have to be based on books, museums and films, and if we want it to have a future at all, public debate, educational dialogue and historical research will have to take the place of visiting the sites themselves.

From a Swedish perspective, these observations are particularly important. The apparent involvement of a Swedish Neo-Nazi in the sign theft last month reminds us that there is a need to continue the efforts to fight racism, Anti-Semitism and undemocratic trends in Swedish society. Sweden's ambivalent role in WW2 makes this even more crucial. As a vital exporter of iron ore to the German war machine, and as an industrial and sometimes political and ideological Nazi allay, Sweden has a moral and political obligation to deal with its past even if it is also responsible for saving many lives through its diplomatical efforts and generosity to refugees.

"Anti-Semitism in Europe is getting worse", says Prof. Bauer and explains that it exists in the extreme Right-Wing as well as in the left and in parts of the second generation of Muslim immigrants who rebel against their communities by targeting Israel and the Jews. He points out Sweden's efforts in fighting these trends, "Sweden dedicated time and money and has created The Living History Forum, a government agency commissioned to promote democracy and human rights, with the Holocaust as its point of reference". There is of course still work to be done and Bauer claims that studying the core issues of the Holocaust and especially the dilemmas of its victims are crucial to this process.

As for the stolen sign, I don't really know what the thieves who climbed on Auschwitz's gate and removed the sign on that cold December night had in mind. Truth be told, I don't really care. I was shocked when it was taken and I'm glad it is now back. But that is stating the obvious again.

Beyond the obvious is another thought. In one of his books, Yehiel Dinur describes a vision of an Auschwitz prisoner. He is sitting in a truck full of prisoners on the way to the crematorium and he's looking at an SS officer. He realizes, to his horror, that under other circumstances the roles could have been reversed and he could have been the killer. The worst thing about Auschwitz, he realizes, is that it is man-maid, not the work of the devil and it lies within the potential of human behavior. He describes the truck passing under the German words "Arbeit Mach Frei" and in his mind the German words are transformed into Hebrew ones: "In the image of God created he him". The symbol of Nazism becomes the cradle of Humanism. Now that would be a sign no one could steal.

וגרסה עברית:

כשעוסקים באושוויץ חשוב לפתוח במובן מאליו. גניבת השלט משער המחנה לפני יותר מחודש היא מעשה נפשע והאחראים לו חייבים להיענש. זאת ועוד, יום השנה ה 65 לשחרור המחנה ויום השואה הבינלאומי, שיצוין השבוע ברחבי העולם, הוא הזדמנות נוספת להזכיר את מצבו הקשה של האתר בו נרצחו מעל למיליון וחצי בני-אדם ולקוות כי השמירה עליו תשופר, שהכסף הנדרש לשיפוצו יגויס בקרוב ושמאמץ ניכר יושקע בשימור המחנה ובהמשך הפעילות החינוכית, התיעודית והטקסית המתקיימת בו.

עד כאן המובן מאליו.

גניבת השלט "העבודה משחררת" עורר מטבע הדברים גל תגובות בישראל ובעולם. רוב התגובות הזכירו דברים שנשמעים כאשר מטרות יהודיות מותקפות בחו"ל. אך גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ איננה דומה לריסוס גרפיטי על בית-כנסת, להשחתת ספר תורה או לחילול קבר יהודי. מחנה אושוויץ איננו מקום קדוש, הוא מקום מקולל. שדות בירקנאו הם אמנם בית-הקברות הגדול ביותר של העם היהודי, אך דווקא השלט בעל הכתובת "ארבט מאכט פריי", הוא הדבר הרחוק ביותר מהיהדות או מהאנושיות שניתן לעלות על הדעת. הוא אולי הייצוג הנאמן ביותר של הנאציזם ושל הרוע עצמו. הוא ארור ומאוס עד כדי כך שמפתה לומר לגנביו כמו גם לכל האנטישמים, הניאו-נאצים והפשיסטים למיניהם שחוגגים את האירוע: "אם אתם כל כך רוצים את השלט הזה, בבקשה – קחו אותו!".

אושוויץ לא הייתה, כפי שאמר ק.צטניק, פלנטה אחרת. להיפך, אושוויץ הייתה בנויה מהחומרים של הפלנטה הזאת. היא לקחה את כל הרעות החולות של העולם המודרני והביאה אותן לקצה. היא פיתחה אמנם טכניקות חדשות, מפלצתיות, אך היא לא המציאה שום רעיון חדש. היא הייתה התגלמותו הנאמנה של האידיאולוגיה הנאצית, שהייתה מהפכנית אולי מבחינה פוליטית, אך התבססה על עקרונות שמרניים ומוכרים, החל מהפרקטיקה הניהולית ועד השימוש בפסיכולוגיה של התליינים והקורבנות. במחנה אושוויץ, כמו בנאציזם עצמו, היה כל מה שהיה רע במודרנה. הייתה בו ההיררכיה, הגזענות והרצחנות שאפיינו את המאה העשרים (ושלא חלפו עדיין מן העולם). נבנה בו עולם בו בני-אדם היו פחות מסך כל חלקיהם, חפצים חסרי ערך שכל חלק מגופם ורכושם נוצל למטרות כלכליות. היו באושוויץ אכזריות, חוסר חמלה ודיכוי אך  מעניין לא פחות, אושוויץ הייתה מבוססת על שקר. וכאן בדיוק תפקידה של הסיסמא הידועה לשמצה: "העבודה משחררת".

ההונאה באושוויץ לא התבטאה רק בשקרים שסופרו לקורבנות שנכנסו לתאי-הגזים מתוך אמונה שהם מקלחות. השקר של אושוויץ היה עמוק יותר. כמעט פילוסופי. באושוויץ היו הרי כל ביטויי העולם האנושי, היו בה מוסיקה, רפואה ומערכת משפט, היו בה מקומות עבודה, חיי מין, מסחר ותעשייה. אך מחולליה של אושוויץ לקחו כל מה שהיה לו פוטנציאל אנושי והפכו אותו על פיו. המוסיקה באושוויץ, למשל, הפכה מביטוי של יופי ורגשות אנושיים לפס-קול של מצעדי עבדים והוצאות להורג. בבית-הבובות המין הפך ממקור של עונג ואינטימיות לאונס סדרתי ואלים. במרתפי העינויים של בלוק 11, המשפט לא עשה צדק אלא הנציח את שרירות לבו ואכזריותו של השליט. בבלוק 10 של הדר' מנגלה הרפואה הפכה ממצילת חיים לגיהינום של המתת ילדים וקטיעת איברים.

ויש כמובן את העבודה. העבודה מעצבת את מי שאנחנו, היא יכולה להיות מקום של יצירה ומקור של פרנסה, היא יכולה להיות משחררת. אבל לא באושוויץ. באושוויץ העבודה הפכה לעבדות, לניצול של בני-אדם מוכי קור, מחלות ורעב ע"י תאגידים כלכליים שחלקם, למרבה הציניות, קיימים עדיין היום. כל אלו מבוטאים היטב בשלט "העבודה משחררת". זוהי יותר מציניות, זהו הביטוי הטהור ביותר של השקר והרוע של הנאציזם.

רבים הזדעזעו, ובצדק, מגניבת הסמל החשוב הזה. אך האם הפרופורציות הופרו? האם הסמל הזה באמת כל כך חשוב? אני ביקרתי באושוויץ פעמים רבות. ראיתי כיצד השלט הזה הופך לאתר תיירות וכיצד קבוצות מצחקקות של בני נוער מכל העולם מתקבצים תחתיו כדי להצטלם. אין ספק, הביקורים באושוויץ הם חשובים וגם סמלים הם חשובים אך הם לא מראית הכל. המלחמה אמנם הסתיימה ב 1945 אך מעשים של רצח-עם, גזענות ואפליה הם לא נחלת ההיסטוריה. ייתכן שלא היה מזיק אם מעט מתשומת הלב שלו זכה השלט הנאצי באושוויץ היה מופנה לנעשה בדרפור, לדיכוי מיעוטים או לצמיחתן של תנועות פשיסטיות ברחבי העולם.

פרופ' יהודה באואר, אחת האוטוריטות החשובות בעולם בנושא השואה, אומר: "יש מקומות רבים בעולם כיום שהרג המוני ורצח-עם אפשריים בהם. כולם יודעים על סודאן, אך יש מקומות נוספים כמו בורמה (מיאנמר) וקונגו המזרחית. המצב במקומות כמו איראן, על המורכבות האתנית שלה, הבלקנים, זימבבווה, קניה ועיראק ומקומות מסוימים בדרום-אמריקה כמו גווטאמאלה, יכול גם הוא להידרדר לרצח המוני". באואר, המבקר בימים אלו בסטוקהולם, משמש כיועץ בכיר לפורומים בינלאומיים שונים הנלחמים בתופעות של הרג המוני ורצח-עם. "השואה הייתה אירוע אי-תקדימי במובן הזה שהיא הייתה טוטאלית, אוניברסאלית, שיטתית ומונעת ע"י מניעים אידיאולוגיים טהורים", הוא אומר, "אבל היא איננה ייחודית. מכיוון שהיא בוצעה ע"י בני-אדם היא יכולה לקרות שוב".

למרות שעבודתו של באואר ושל אחרים חשובה אולי לאנושות יותר משימור מחנות-הריכוז הישנים, יש הטוענים שהשלט הגנוב, כמו שאר שרידי המחנה, חשוב כדי להילחם בהכחשת השואה. יש אמת בטענה זאת אך יבוא היום שבו לא יוותר הרבה מהמחנה המקורי ומשרידיו. כבר היום חלקים ממנו מתפוררים ויש שרידים שיתכלו למרות כל מאמצי השימור. השרידים הפיזיים כמו גם העדים החיים, חשובים ככל שיהיו, לא נותנים היום מענה להכחשת השואה וגם לא להבנתה. אחרי הכל, מדובר באירועים מאמצע המאה הקודמת ובקרוב לא יוותרו להם עדים חיים. מחנות חשובים כמו טרבלינקה וסוביבור נהרסו לחלוטין ע"י הגרמניים וחומר תיעודי רב נהרס ונעלם. אם חשוב לנו שהשואה ולקחיה לא יישכחו ניאלץ להתרגל ללמוד אותם דרך ספרים, סרטים ומוזיאונים ובעיקר דרך מחקר היסטורי, דיון ציבורי ושיח חינוכי.

מנקודת ראות שוודית אבחנות אלו חשובות במיוחד. מעורבותו לכאורה של ניאו-נאצי שוודי בגניבת השלט בחודש שעבר היא תזכורת לחשיבותו של המאבק בגזענות, באנטישמיות ובמגמות אנטי-דמוקרטיות בחברה השוודית. זכר התפקיד האמביוולנטי של שוודיה במלה"ע השנייה רק מחזקת צורך זה. כיצאנית ברזל חיוני למכונת המלחמה הגרמנית וכשותפה עסקית, ולעיתים גם פוליטית ואידיאולוגית של גרמניה הנאצית, לשוודיה יש אחריות פוליטית ומוסרית להתמודד עם עברה, אפילו אם היא הצילה אלפי בני-אדם בתקופת המלחמה כתוצאה ממאמציה הדיפלומטיים ונדיבותה כלפי פליטים. זוהי מחויבות היסטורית שנוגעת גם למגמות מדאיגות בהווה.

"מצבם של היהודים באירופה גרוע יותר היום משהוא היה בעבר", אומר פרופסור יהודה באואר ומסביר כי יש היום באירופה אנטישמיות מסורתית, דומה לזו הטרום-נאצית וגם אנטישמיות חדשה יותר. האנטישמיות לדבריו מגיעה משלושה מקומות מרכזיים: הימין הקיצוני, השמאל והדור השני והשלישי של מהגרים מוסלמים שמפנים את המרד שלהם בחברות המערביות הקולטות נגד ישראל והיהודים. שוודיה, מציין באואר, מקדישה מאמצים, זמן וכסף רב להילחם במגמות אלו אך יש עוד עבודה רבה. השימוש בגרעין הקשה של השואה, ובעיקר בדילמות של קורבנותיה, היא הדרך הטובה ביותר להמשיך את הדיון החשוב הזה.

אינני יודע מה בדיוק עבר בראשם של החוליגנים העלובים שטיפסו על השער של אושוויץ, הבריגו החוצה את שלט הכניסה וברחו איתו. למען האמת, זה גם לא אכפת לי במיוחד. המובן מאליו אומר שהשלט חשוב להנצחת הקורבנות ולפעילות החינוכית של המוזיאון וטוב שהוא הוחזר. אבל מעבר למובן מאליו יש מחשבה נוספת.

הסופר ק.צטניק בספרו "הצופן" מתאר חיזיון של אסיר, שלד בין שלדים עירומים, היושב במשאית בדרך לקרמטוריום ומביט אל קצין SS. האסיר מבין שהזוועה האמיתית של אושוויץ היא בכך שהיוצרות יכולות היו להתהפך ושהוא עצמו, בנסיבות אחרות, יכול היה להיות קצין SS. אושוויץ הרי איננה יצירת השטן, הוא מבין, אלא יצירת בני-אדם, שכולם שווים וכולם נבראו בצלם. "המשאית עוברת את שער אושוויץ שמעליו האותיות הגרמניות: ARBEIT MACHT FREI", כותב ק.צטניק את חזיון האסיר, "והן מתחלפות באותיות העבריות: "בצלם אלוהים ברא אותו". כך הופך סמל הנאציזם לערש ההומניזם. את השלט הזה אין איש יכול לגנוב.