World Leaders at Jerusalem Holocaust Memorial Conference Condemn Resurgent Antisemitism
World leaders voiced alarm at resurgent antisemitism on Thursday as they gathered at Israel‘s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Vice President Mike Pence also castigated Iran in their speeches to the World Holocaust Forum, accusing it of rabid antisemitism and of seeking Israel‘s destruction.
Leaders of Russia and France looked closer to home in lamenting the killing of six million Jews in Europe during World War Two by the Nazis and vowing to combat rising antisemitism.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Jerusalem gathering that he bowed his head in “deepest sorrow (for) the worst crime in the history of humanity” committed by his countrymen.
“I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading,” he said.
Steinmeier spoke in English rather than in German, a choice made, his office said, to avoid causing any distress to Holocaust survivors in the audience.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was vital to oppose xenophobia and antisemitism everywhere.
“You just said that it’s not known where antisemitism ends,” Putin told Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at a meeting before the conference convened.
“Unfortunately we do know this — Auschwitz is its end-result.”
A global survey by the US-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that global antisemitic attitudes had increased, and significantly so in Eastern and Central Europe. It found that large percentages of people in many European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Israel hailed the memorial conference, attended by more than 40 world leaders, as the biggest international gathering in its history.
In his speech to the forum, Netanyahu denounced Iran as “the most antisemitic regime on the planet” and vowed that Israel would always defend itself against those out to destroy it.
Pence, in his comments, described Iran as the one country “that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”
Other guests at the commemoration included French President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Prince Charles.
Warning of the “dark shadow of antisemitism,” Macron met French survivors of the Holocaust at a memorial near Jerusalem to some 76,000 Jews arrested in wartime France and transported to death camps such as Auschwitz, where most died.
One notable absentee from Thursday’s commemoration was President Andrzej Duda of Poland, who turned down his invitation because Poland he was not allowed to speak at the conference, unlike the wartime victors the United States, Russia, Britain and France, and also Germany.
Polish leaders have also been angered by comments made by Putin last month suggesting Poland shared responsibility for the war. Poland, which was invaded first by Nazi Germany and then by Soviet forces in September, 1939, sees itself as a major victim of the war, in which it lost a fifth of its population.
Poland will host its own ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum on Jan. 27, as it does every year.