Be vigilant against renewed spectre of racism

  • MarleneBethlehemHannover
The shadow of the Second World War and the Holocaust in particular had not lifted entirely, according to stalwart South African communal leader and currently president of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York, Marlene Bethlehem, speaking in Hannover, Germany, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The commemoration was organised by the Jewish community of Lower Saxony and attended by some 1 200 people, mainly gentiles, who gave Bethlehem a standing ovation.

Bethlehem told her audience: “There are ominous signs that the spectre of racism may again be raising its ugly head in Europe and other parts of the world. Signs are that fascist ideas may again be taking hold, signs that ordinary people will again be misled into hatred.”

Identifying with principles of freedom and inclusivity, she said, reminded us of the consequences of racism, of name calling, of forgetting that all human beings are equal and all equally deserving of a decent life.

“I say this in solidarity with the people of Aleppo (in Syria), and many other cities whose citizens have been forced to flee.

“In particular, I say this to honour and commend Germany for accepting so many refugees into your midst.

“I say this also to remember those murdered at the Christmas market in Berlin last month. No one deserves such terror, much less a community that has done so much for those fleeing war and persecution. But I also I make this declaration for other, more personal reasons. I am a Jew. I also say, I am a South African. I have inherited the legacy of Nelson Mandela.”

Hitler and his allies were defeated. Later, the Soviet regime fell. The Berlin Wall collapsed, apartheid was defeated in South Africa.

“The world has made real progress,” Bethlehem said. “But recently, the world has begun to change again. Once more we feel the cold, ominous wind of racism and ultra-nationalism. Once again we hear talk of walls being built between countries.

“Once again it is fashionable to believe that some human beings are superior to others, to believe that it is acceptable to humiliate, insult and isolate people on the basis of their religion, or their origins.

“This is what makes International Holocaust Remembrance Day so important. On this day we remember the slaughter of the Jews of Europe and those associated with them. As we remember them, we try to draw lessons for our world today.”

It was a day to remember the survivors, those who resisted, who stood up against evil, and to talk about the perpetrators and those who supported them.

“It is a day to ask ourselves as individuals, what each of us can do to help someone who is vulnerable. To ask ourselves as countries what kind of world we are trying to build. What stories will be told of us by our children.”

Bethlehem said the Holocaust could only be understood one person at a time. Six million were killed.

“Each of these victims was a person and not a number. Each one an entire world.”

She told the story of one family - a mother, Judit, her husband, Reinhold, and child. The parents were murdered in Auschwitz. The child escaped the death train and survived, thanks to a French family who took him in. He now lives in Israel.

The mother was Bethlehem’s aunt Judit. Her son, Josse, is Bethlehem’s cousin - and Josse’s son Oren was in the hall to hear Bethlehem speak.



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