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German minister says his country’s memory of Nazi crimes is “crumbling” — and the far right is to blame

"Populist provocateurs” are relativizing the horrors of the Holocaust.

by Tim Hume
Jan 28 2019, 1:34pm

Getty Images

Germany’s foreign minister warned Sunday that his country’s collective memory of Nazi crimes against the Jews was “crumbling.”

The claim, made on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, comes amid concerns over rising anti-Semitism and historical revisionism across Europe.

In a column for Germany's Die Welt newspaper, Heiko Maas said that “right-wing populist provocateurs” were relativizing the crimes of the Holocaust.

“Our culture of remembrance is crumbling. It is under pressure from extreme right-wingers,” he wrote, citing a CNN study that found 40 percent of young Germans knew little about the Holocaust.

“These are shocking figures that we can't idly resign ourselves to,” he wrote.

Senior figures from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, the country’s main opposition party, have repeatedly made statements questioning the focus on the Holocaust as the defining event in German history, with one member criticizing the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.”

Just last week, AfD lawmakers walked out of a Holocaust commemoration in Bavaria’s state legislature in what analysts said was a “calculated provocation” around the explosive subject of the role of the Holocaust in German history.

READ MORE: Far-right German lawmakers aren’t sorry for walking out of a commemoration to Holocaust victims

Maas’ comments follow broader warnings that Europe’s memory of the Holocaust is dwindling, aided by deliberate historical revisionism by nationalist governments.

Even as politicians and dignitaries joined former prisoners in Auschwitz on Sunday to mark the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' largest death camp, a Polish far-right group held an anti-Semitic demonstration at the site.

The group of about 50 ultranationalists was led by Piotr Rybak, a far-right firebrand who was once convicted of burning an effigy of an Orthodox Jew whom he said represented George Soros.

According to Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Rybak claimed the commemoration ignored the 70,000 Poles killed alongside the 1 million Jews there — even though the memorial paid homage to all those murdered at the site.

“It's time to fight against Jewry and free Poland from them,” he said.

READ MORE: Brits are pissed that Polish hate preachers were invited to a far-right rally

Poland’s push to embrace a revisionist view of its World War II history caused a diplomatic firestorm last year, after Warsaw moved to implement a law making it an offense to say Poland and Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks during a meeting with Ukrainan Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin after a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, on 18 January 2019. (STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The bill was eventually watered down — made into a civil, rather than criminal offense — after it drew a huge outcry from Israel, the United States and European allies, who labeled it an attempt to whitewash history.

While most Jews living in Poland were murdered by the Nazis, many were also killed with the complicity of the Poles, who denounced Jews or directly participated in violence against them.

READ MORE: Poland backs down from its controversial Holocaust history law

The Holocaust Revisionist Report, a study released last week, identified Poland, alongside Hungary, Croatia and Lithuania, as the European countries taking the most alarming steps towards revisionism.

“When a Polish minister questions Polish participation in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors during a Holocaust-era pogrom, he is wrong,” the authors wrote.

The report is the latest snapshot into rising anti-Semitism and a dwindling historical memory of the Holocaust across Europe.

Last month, a European Commission survey of 16,300 Jews in 12 European countries found nine in 10 believed anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years, and was at its worst on social media.

A British poll released Sunday by The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found five percent of adults in the United Kingdom didn’t believe the Holocaust happened, and nearly two-thirds didn’t know or underestimated the number of Jews murdered. “Such widespread ignorance and even denial is shocking,” chief executive Olivia Marks-Woldman said.

Meanwhile, Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs released its Global Antisemitism Report Sunday, which found 13 Jews were murdered in fatal attacks last year, the highest since a wave of attacks on Argentinian Jews in the 1990s.

Cover image: Auschwitz survivors are seen crossing the famous gate during 74th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation and Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)