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Memories beyond Auschwitz are more important than ever

Guest contributor

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January sends a powerful global message. Across the world, leaders, communities and individuals reinforce their commitment to honoring the victims of humanity’s darkest hour. However, in bowing its collective head in commemoration, the world too often remembers those who perished as one, generic collective. 27th January marks the liberation of Auschwitz, the ultimate symbol of Nazi horror. Yet not all Holocaust victims met their fate in concentration camps. Far from it. Now more than ever, the time has come to tell the whole Holocaust story, writes Natan Sharansky (pictured, below)

In paying tribute to the six million murdered, we must comprehend that they represent six million unique lives, each their own individual world. Remembering the Holocaust means remembering each and every victim in their own right. We are duty-bound to tell as many of their distinctive stories as possible. Unfortunately, too many of them remain unknown.

None more so perhaps than the tragedy of Babyn Yar. Just days after occupying Kyiv in September 1941, the Nazis ordered the city’s Jews to assemble. Over a two-day period, they were marched to the nearby Babyn Yar ravine, where around 34,000 were cruelly shot dead. Eventually, Nazi firing squads murdered around 100,000 individuals including Ukrainians, Roma and others at the site. The Babyn Yar massacre annihilated Kyiv’s Jewish community. It became the blueprint for similar mass shootings across Eastern Europe. The Jews of Riga, Minsk, Vilnius and elsewhere met the same tragic fate, murdered in killing fields near their homes. In total, around 1.5 million Jews fell victim to the ‘Holocaust by bullets.’

This wholesale destruction of Jewish communities was a gruesome precursor to the industrial murder of cattle carts and gas chambers. The body-filled pits and ravines of Eastern Europe demonstrated to the Nazis that the Jewish People really could be eradicated, that genocide was possible.

Yet, this key chapter of the Nazis ‘Final Solution’, no less tragic than Auschwitz, remains largely unknown. As I learned through bitter personal experience, the post-World War Two Soviet regime did everything possible to suppress Jewish identity and to erase the Holocaust from our collective memory. The Soviet worldview rejected national, ethnic or religious affiliation. As such, they deliberately portrayed Babyn Yar as a crime against the Soviet people and physically buried the truth by building highways, housing, a sports center over what is Europe’s largest mass grave, even attempting to turn it into a municipal waste site.

Although independent Ukraine has attempted to rectify this injustice, Babyn Yar continues to largely evade the historical narrative. A recent survey by the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at IDC Herzliya, examined attitudes towards Babyn Yar and Holocaust memory. Worryingly, it found that even in Israel, where the Holocaust features so prominently in the public consciousness, where it is pivotal to school curricula, just 33 per cent of 18-29 year-olds could place the Babyn Yar massacre as having occurred during World War Two. Meanwhile, across all demographics, just 28 per cent of Israelis know that more than one million Jews were shot dead during the Holocaust. In a parallel survey in Ukraine, where the horrors of Babyn Yar unfolded, the figure was even lower at 16 per cent.

Now is the time to redress the balance – and there is no time to lose. 75 per cent of those surveyed made the sad and worrying observation that Holocaust memory is fading, even in Israel. 68 per cent expressed the same sentiment in Ukraine. Clearly, perpetuating the precious memory of the Holocaust is becoming increasingly challenging. Those who survived, the witnesses to unparalleled evil, are dwindling in number. Their first-hand testimony, etched into the minds of so many people, will soon be a thing of the past.

Thankfully, significant efforts are already being made to ensure that the victims of Babyn Yar and similar mass shootings will be firmly entrenched in the annals of history. The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, whose Supervisory Board I proudly head, is dedicated to perpetuating the memory of Babyn Yar unlike ever before. Not only is a world-class museum being developed, but crucial research and education projects are already underway. New names of victims have been uncovered and details of their lives have been restored. Previously unknown stories of Ukrainians who saved their Jewish neighbors have been discovered. A forgotten world, shrouded in darkness, is seeing light once again.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is the perfect opportunity to consider how we remember mankind’s unmatched descent into evil. Across the world, we will pledge “Never Again” and we will mean it. Yet, if we truly wish to keep Holocaust memory alive, we must first know our history. It starts by understanding that the Holocaust did not begin and end at Auschwitz. There are many Holocaust stories to be told. Now is the time to tell them.

Natan Sharansky is a former prisoner of Zion and served as an Israeli government minister.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

Catherine Feore

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

Reuters

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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