President Reuven Rivlin on Monday called for a “war” against a new kind of Holocaust denial taking root across Europe today, and bitterly criticized far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin said an attempt by some in Europe to universalize the Shoah is more dangerous than the mere refusal to acknowledge that the mass murder of Jews had taken place.
While traditional Holocaust denial was a fringe phenomenon that convinced few, turning all Europeans into victims undermines the core message of Holocaust commemorations for decades to come and subsumes the unique targeted destruction of the Jewish community by the Nazi regime, he argued.
Without mentioning names, Rivlin criticized Le Pen and other European politicians for shirking their respective countries’ responsibility in having collaborated with the Nazi regime.
In the same vein, Rivlin warned Israel against cooperating with extremist parties on the continent, again clearly referring to Le Pen, who in Sunday’s French presidential elections came in second with 21.5 percent. Le Pen will face off against her centrist rival, Emmanuel Macron, in a second round next month.
“Some two weeks ago a French presidential candidate denied France’s responsibility for the deportation of its Jewish citizens to the Nazi concentration and death camps,” Rivlin said at an event marking the close of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot.
Earlier this month, Le Pen said that “if there are people responsible” for the deportation of French Jews, “it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France.”
Le Pen, who has advanced to the second round of the French presidential race, said on April 9 she did not “think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” the 1942 round-up of Jews at a Paris cycling track who were then sent to Nazi death camps.
The Israeli government condemned her remark as “contrary to the historical truth, which has been expressed by French presidents who have recognized the country’s responsibility for the fate of French Jews who died in the Holocaust.”
“As a sovereign state that has gained national independence, we have a duty to demand from other nations and states not to evade responsibility,” Rivlin said.
“We must wage a war against the current and dangerous wave of Holocaust denial. We must resist the renunciation of national responsibility in the name of alleged victimhood.”
The event was also attended by former German president Joachim Gauck.
Rivlin said he was uneasy about recent attempts to undermine proper Holocaust remembrance. The responsibility for the systematic murder of Jews Nazi Germany and its allies has recently changed from being a matter of academic study to a “burning political issue,” he said.
Holocaust scholars and others have pointed with increasing alarm to attempts by some in Europe to place the Holocaust in the context of Soviet atrocities, with nationalists in some countries viewing themselves as victims of Communism and honoring anti-Communist fighters who collaborated with the Nazis while downplaying Jewish victimhood.
“The prevalent message arising from recent political statements is uniquely disturbing. And in every place that message is the same: we are not responsible for the Holocaust. We are not responsible for the extermination of the Jewish people which occurred within our borders,” he said.
Denying one’s collaboration with the Nazis attempts to turn all of Europe into victims, the president argued. “This is a denial that seeks to annul the political and moral responsibility that must stand at the heart of memory of the Holocaust for generations to come. Victimization is the most comprehensive and effective note of exemption from responsibility,” he said.
If the Europeans continue to victimize themselves and refuse to accept their responsibility for the atrocities committed on their soil they will be unwilling to assume responsibility to fight modern-day anti-Semitism, xenophobia and increasing nationalist violence, Rivlin said.
Israel “must resist unholy alliances with extreme right-wing elements,” he said.
Some might think that populist parties such as Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and other groups said to be xenophobic and especially Islamophobic, are natural allies with Israel, but “we must recall that there was and will be nothing in common with anti-Semites in any shape or form,” the president said.
Israel’s official stance of avoiding contact with Le Pen’s National Front, which is accused of anti-Semitism, was reaffirmed during the January visit of the party’s secretary general Nicolas Bay.
Le Pen received 3.7% of the votes cast by French nationals in Israel on the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, far behind Francois Fillon (60.4%) and Emmanuel Macron (30.9%).
Rivlin cited similar efforts to shirk responsibility for having collaborated with the Nazis in Poland, Ukraine and the UK. Not all nations are equally guilty, he allowed, adding that Israel demands only of Germany to take full responsibility for the systematic planning and the implementation of the Final Solution.
“But we do call for moral internal reflection from all those who assisted carrying out of the systematic annihilation,” he said. “The denial of responsibility of the crimes committed in the days of the Second World War is Holocaust denial of a new, more destructive and dangerous kind from that we have known until now.”
Traditional Holocaust deniers belonged to the fringes and relied on “quasi-scientific work of so-called historians.” These old-school Holocaust deniers disputed reputable historians’ findings about the Final Solution and its anti-Semitic goals, Rivlin said.
“Their success was minimal,” he added. “Conversely, the denial of the Holocaust which is growing before our very eyes strives towards a more sophisticated goal, and is much more dangerous. This is not a denial of the very existence of the Holocaust, but a denial of the distinction between a victim and a criminal.”
Germans won’t have an identity unblemished by Auschwitz
Gauck, taking the podium after Rivlin, said he was moved to spend Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and vowed to continue fighting Holocaust denial.
The 77-year-old Gauck, who served as Germany’s president until last month, said he used to be ashamed of being German due to the country’s dark past. “I was unable to like my country. I hated it even. My generation viewed our parents with disgust. They disclaimed all culpability, they allegedly knew nothing. The majority of them still maintained this silence in the 1950s and 60s and refused to accept responsibility for what had happened,” he recalled.
But even future generations of Germans will “not have an identity unblemished by Auschwitz,” he added. “The special and lasting connection between our peoples and Germany’s particular solidarity with the democratic State of Israel will remain part of their identity.”
AFP contributed to this report