This week, the U.S. commemorates Days of Holocaust Remembrance. Solemn ceremonies across the U.S. and around the globe are taking place against the backdrop of two deeply troubling developments.
First: the last survivors and eyewitnesses to humanity’s greatest crime are inexorably leaving the stage of history. Israel's President Shimon Peres said that 1,000 Holocaust survivors and dying in Israel every month.
Secondly: There has been a 30% spike in worldwide anti-Semitic hate crimes and attacks this past year.
In part, because we are witnessing the consequences of the dimming of collective memory. Holocaust denial, once the domain of the lunatic fringe, is state policy of Iran and presented as fact in much of the Arab and Muslim world. Lithuania and Hungary are just two European countries who light a candle for their Jewish citizens massed murdered in the 1940s while simultaneously allowing the veneration of their own Nazi collaborators as national heroes.
We are witnessing the consequences of the dimming of collective memory. Holocaust denial, once the domain of the lunatic fringe, is state policy of Iran and presented as fact in much of the Arab and Muslim world.
Which brings us to two incidents in The Netherlands, whose World War II legacy is inexorably linked to the fate of a true hero of humankind: Anne Frank.
The municipality of Bronckhorst has chosen who it will stand silent for. The town fathers have decided to honor the fallen soldiers of Nazi Germany buried there on Dutch National Memorial Day, May 4.
They originally hoped to have the ceremony last year, but a judge barred it. Now a higher court has cleared the way for the travesty. There are still a few people alive, Jews and non-Jews who survived wartime massacres by the German army. Simply put had Hitler’s Wehrmacht prevailed, no Jew would be alive today and democracy would have been relegated to an unused word in Third Reich dictionaries.
There is another reason why Anne Frank must be weeping—not over the insults to the dead but the danger to the living.
Meet Mehmet Sahin, a Dutch Muslim doctoral student, who volunteers to help youth in the city of Arnhem. A few weeks ago he interviewed a group of Dutch-Turkish youth on Nederlands TV2 during which several declared their unabashed hatred of Jews and open admiration of Hitler. “What Hitler did to the Jews is fine with me,” said one. “Hitler should have killed all the Jews,” said another.
While the youngsters were aware of the fate of Anne Frank, it did not deter these teens from expressing their outright hatred of Jews over and over again, insisting that everyone at their school harbored similar views.
As you can see, their smirks and body language confirm a deeply-embedded hatred as one teen declares: “What Hitler said about Jews is that there will be one day when you see that I am right that I killed all the Jews. And that day will come.”
When Mehmet Sahin reprimanded them and indicated that he was committed to debunk the young people’s hatred, here is how his neighbors reacted: They collected signatures to demand he leave the area. And when Mehmet began to receive death threats, the Mayor of Arnhem, Pauline Krikke, advised him to go into hiding.
And that is where he and his family are today.
Is this the best solution that democratic Netherlands can come up with? A Witness Protection Program for a man guilty of fighting bigotry and standing up for the truth? Are there no consequences for the hate and threats emanating from adults?
One MP, Ahmed Marcouch said that he would raise the scandal in Parliament. “It is horrible that someone has to be afraid because he has done something that we all should do – teach children not to hate.”
Recently, Mehmet Sahin wrote these words:
“Within a couple of days, I will move to another city of the Netherlands. My personal situation/story is a shame of the European civilization because it is inconceivable that such barbarism can occur in this country. After what happened in the last three weeks, I understood the eternal loneliness and pain of the Jewish population. In the rest of my life, I will tell the whole world that we all must resist this aggression…”
I will be traveling soon and hope I may have the opportunity to meet with Mehmet in the Netherlands. Send your message of solidarity c/o firstname.lastname@example.org and together we will let him know that he is not alone. After all, isn't that the message Anne Frank wanted the world to learn?