Ashes to European ashes
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Hebrew media review

Ashes to European ashes

As Israel readies to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, pundits also look to France, where voters may decide the fate of the Continent as the world knows it

A memorial at Drancy, the biggest french concentration camp, seen on May 31 2010 . (Serge Attal /Flash 90)
A memorial at Drancy, the biggest french concentration camp, seen on May 31 2010 . (Serge Attal /Flash 90)

Were reality a Hollywood movie, people would say it’s too on the nose that the day Israel and the Jewish community around the world mark Holocaust remembrance is the day when Europe may take a huge leap toward breaking up the continental unity that has emerged post-World War II.

Alas, reality loves coincidences, and so Israeli papers Sunday morning winkingly juxtapose tales of Holocaust remembrance with previews of the first round of the French presidential election, which many think will see far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen advance closer to the Elysee Palace, and could spell the end of the European Union should she be joined by left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Tabloids Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth put Holocaust remembrances ahead of the France story, with the former running a front page picture of Auschwitz and the words “never again,” and the latter trying to home in on the enormity of the destruction of the Jewish people by the seeing it through the lens of Elie Wiesel, who died last year.

Elisha Wiesel, who will take part in the March of the Living at the notorious death camp in present-day Poland, challenges readers to take up his father’s fight for the oppressed and his mission as a witness and chronicler of the worst humanity is capable of, though in doing so he may also dilute the importance of the one day a year when the Holocaust is not crowded out by other evils.

“Are you witnesses to the dangers of historical revisionism? To voices in France today denying the enthusiasm of Vichy officials in chasing down Jews,” he writes in an oblique reference to Le Pen’s recent attempt to deny her country’s culpability in the Holocaust. “Are you witnesses to the fact that history’s lessons are not being learned when many, not just in Europe but in my land, the US, refuse to take in Muslim refugees escaping chemical attacks in Syria? When black Americans fear routine traffic stops; when Christians are slaughtered for being infidels, when girls in Chad, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are threatened, raped or killed just for trying to seek an education; when homosexuals are thought of as criminals worthy of death in Iran … will you be witnesses to the suffering those who fear their fate because of the color of their skin, their religion, creed, gender or sexual preference?”

The paper and others is also filled with more straightforward remembrances. In Israel Hayom, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot writes of the importance of the state of Israel making sure that the Jewish people are never helpless again, and also of the important role the state has in preserving memory.

“On the ground of this land, we are obligated to remember the disappearing — the generation of survivors. As the years pass, so grows the national responsibility on our shoulders: to be a voice for them and to transfer the torch of memory to the coming generations. Right in the darkness of the Holocaust, we were commanded to be a light and accentuate the individual. For many of the survivors, you — who stand guard day and night — are the face of victory. Tell their stories, carry in your hearts the memories of their loved ones who perished and thus ensure eternal life for a generation that is bound and struggling for its soul and spirit,” he writes.

Haaretz skips over many of the heartfelt eulogies and calls to remember and fight on — more words in an avalanche that has poured forth for the last 75 years, both proof for and against Thomas Adorno’s famous phrase that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

Instead, the paper runs stories about survivors and what they did after the war, including a feature on Isaac Greber, 95, who has made it his life’s work to commemorate the memory of all the members of his Polish town of Ostrowiec.

“It was clear to me that if I didn’t overcome the difficulties and enlist all my strength, this community would probably be forgotten. That is, its memory would be lost forever,” he is quoted saying. “Old and young, full of life, who never did anything bad to anyone, died. It was very important for me as much as I could and as much as I remembered, to commemorate them.”

The paper’s lead story, though, focuses on France, with correspondent Dov Alfon reporting from Paris that there seems to be a four-way tie near the top of the polls, but anything can happen.

“The political dynamic has created scenarios full of surprises, some of which could occur this evening with the publication of the results, which could spark shock in capital markets, EU institutions and Europe as a whole,” he writes.

In Yedioth, analyst Nadav Eyal also takes the view that the French heading to the polls are casting a vote larger than their little country.

“France will determine if the wave of Brexit-Trump will be halted, or if it will continue to run rampant and change the international arena. The ascendancy of Le Pen or Melanchon could break apart the EU for good, which is at the heart of Franco-German cooperation,” he writes. “The rejection of the two and a win by someone like Emmanuel Macron will signal the exact opposite, and will telegraph a respite in the political battle against globalization. The decision is only up to the French, but the influence will be on all of us.”

While Eyal doesn’t say exactly how Israel will be affected, Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer writes in the broadsheet that should Le Pen and Melenchon both make it to the second round, Jerusalem will unhappily find itself without a horse to back.

“Mélenchon is the candidate of France’s Left Front, the only political party represented at a national level which has an actively pro-Palestinian policy and supports boycotts of Israel. This is usually not a major issue, as the party has never polled over seven percent in national elections, but if Mélenchon takes the presidency, these views would gain a much larger platform,” he writes. “As for Le Pen, she has been officially ostracized by Israel throughout her political career. Israel accepts the policy of the French Jewish leadership that sees her National Front party as anti-Semitic and therefore has no ties with it.”

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