100 Senior Ministers and members of parliament from across Europe visit Babyn Yar – one of the most infamous sites of the Holocaust and pledge to promote legislation to integrate Holocaust studies and lessons learned into state curricula
A delegation of some 100 Ministers, MP’s, Senators and Ambassadors from across Europe gathered at Babyn Yar, Ukraine, the site of a brutal mass shooting in which more than 30,000 Jews were murdered by Nazis and their collaborators in Kyiv in just two days and buried in a mass grave. The Delegation was organized by the European Jewish Association and partners the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre and Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine.
Two days ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day, the delegates took part in a two-day gathering. Day one saw a symposium to discuss the challenge of combating on-going antisemitism across the continent, the establishment of inter-parliamentary working groups to tackle the issue and to discuss other tools to eradicate the ‘oldest hatred’ and the new anti-Semitism – the de-legitimization of the state of Israel. Holocaust survivors and witnesses to the Babyn Yar atrocity also shared testimony. Day two saw a detailed presentation about Babyn Yar, the tragedy itself and the efforts taken to put a shameful episode – that was for years covered up – firmly in the public consciousness, and as a respectful place of remembrance. A meeting with Jewish Leaders was then followed by a tour of the Babyn Yar center and a ceremony of solemn remembrance.
President of the Parliament of Ukraine, Ruslan Stefanchuk stated that: “Ukraine is the fourth country when it comes to the number of righteous among nations. The Ukranian Parliament has recently adopted al law to fight and prevent antisemitism in the country and to commemorate the Holocaust. “Memory is the only way to fight antisemitism,” he said. “The atrocities all happened because people kept silent because fear, indifference and egoism.The study of the Holocaust is of special importance for the Ukrainians.”
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Olha Stefanishyna attended the EJA conference in Kiev, despite the current complex geo-political situation and told the European Political leaders present: “it’s very important that today we have a lot of members of parliament here. We made a very clear position of the government by adopting particular legislation. When we commemorate the tragedy of the Holocaust, we commentate the victims of the families who faced these tragedies, but we must remember these tragedies were inspired by tyrant. it is not important only to remember, but to make sure no other tragedies facing the democratic and free world should face this, we should also remember that on this holocaust day I plea that you have your governments avoid these tragedies of people who are dying and suffering”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin the Chairman of the EJA stressed that “Parliamentarians from across the continent, members of the European Parliament, Jewish leaders, and public figures joined us to demand on behalf of the victims and their relatives an effective response against the attempted cover-up of the atrocities and the moral lessons to be learned because of them. Fighting antisemitism is an endless task. We can never relent, never rest. Significant educational work in all formal and informal educational frameworks and in civil society are needed, backed by concrete laws and not only as recommendation or a desirable objective. One day in the yearly calendar is not enough. Nor can Holocaust education remain as a study of one or two semesters in history classes. Studying the Holocaust and its lessons must be a central pillar in imparting the life skills of the younger generations – in school as well as in universities. This is important for Europe not less than it is important for the Jewish people or for any nationality or sector or gender in one population or another. Because in this matter, we, at any time must be vigilant of where hate, dogma and stigmatising the ‘other’ can lead to.”
Michael Sidko, Last survivor of the ‘Babi Yar massacare, shared his story with the conference attendees. He was 6 years old when the atrocity occurred. His mother, younger sister Clara and baby brother were shot dead by the Nazis in cold blood. He and his brother managed to escape thanks to one of the Ukrainian guards who let some children escape to the forests. Sidko asked members of parliament to return to their countries and work to teach the younger generation the story of the Holocaust and its lessons and to educate them to strive for peace and brotherhood among all peoples.
Ambassador of Israel to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky: What happened in Babyn Yar went down as one of the mass executions of Jews in history. Every village in the area has its own pit which became a mass grave. The tragedy was not only the physical extermination of people, but also an attempt to remove every memory of their existence. Babyn Yar memorial complex will contribute enormously to the effort to remember what happened here eighty years ago
Joel Mergui, President of Consistoire of Paris and European Centre for Judaism, the largest Jewish Community in Europe shared the concerns of the French Jewish community On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Annual statistics show that the number of antisemitic acts in 2021 grew in FRANCE in comparison with 2020. Especially a growing in violence. There is a rise of extremes in France, in Europe and the rest of the world. It is very worrying as this antisemitism is coming from both the extreme right and the extreme left – but also from Islamism. When we combat antisemitism, we will be able to combat any form of hatred. Antisemitism must be treated specifically. Mergui called for the nomination of a person responsible for the fight against antisemitism in each country in Europe. “Unfortunately often countries nominate a person responsible for all hatred. “Each hatred must be treated differently.”
Speaking about the ongoing row between the Polish and Israeli Governments on the nature of polish involvement in the Holocaust, Deputy Marshal of Senate of Poland, Senator Michal Kaminski said: There are some in the government who wanted to show their patriotic colours by starting a row with an important stategic and diplomatic partner. I was not in this group and felt the row was a mistake and a pointless strain on an otherwise good relationship. Today, all polish officials from the government or the opposition are united in their statements against antisemitism”.
Speaking about Social Media platforms’ responsibility to fight against Anti-Semitism, Marco Pancini, YouTube Director of Public Policy for Europe explained YouTube’s strategy in battling hate speech and said: “What we are trying to do is make life difficult as possible to publish hate speech on our platform. Whenever we find something that is against our policies and is also hate speech, we not only report this but we identify the elements in this piece of content. Additionally, we have experts who can deal with this content in many non-English countries”.
When asked if the adoption of the IHRA definition should be mandatory for all UK universities, MP Christian Wakeford, Co-Chair of Parliamentary Group on British Jews in the UK Parliamen said: I am glad that the IHRA definition is being adopted by more and more British institutions, including football clubs and universities . But this adoption did not really change anything so far unfortunately since it was not really implemented. We also need to recognize that Anti-zionism is Antisemitism . It is just a different word to describe the same reality. You can be a critical friend of Israel but you can’t be an antizionist without being antisemitic”
Rabbi Meir Stambler, Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine: The Jewish communities in the country are being renewed with the full support of the authorities. There is a lot of dualities in relation to the nation’s heroes who were also antisemitic and we warn about that but understand that this is a nation being rebuilt after 70 years of communism and as someone who walks the streets of Kiev with all the hallmarks of a religious Jew, I must note that in Kiev I feel much safer as a Jew than Paris, Brussels. London or any other European capital.
MP Martin Engelberg, Deputy Chair of Foreign Policy Committee of the Austrian Parliament noted Austria’s change of position on Israel during the last two years thanks to former Chancellor Kurz and encouraged the younger Jewish generation to enter politics in their respective countries.
Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center welcoming the delegation said: “Babyn Yar is a symbol for millions of Jews and Israelis, for the nation of Ukraine, and serves as a lesson for humanity as a whole. Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center welcomes the EU parliamentarians delegation to Babyn Yar, this is an important initiative as part of our efforts to expose the lesser known story of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe known as the “Holocaust by Bullets”. This is the only way to truly honour the memory of the victims and learn the vital lessons of the past”