To argue that there was no connection between Jews in Israel and Jews murdered by the Nazis “is like cutting away the roots and branches of a tree and saying to its trunk: I have not hurt you.” (The judges’ summing up at the Eichmann trial, 1962)
Holocaust Memorial Day has its genesis in the 2000 Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, where Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel served as honorary chair, and Israel’s Professor Yehuda Bauer served as senior Academic Advisor. Over forty nations signed The Stockholm Declaration calling for an annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance on 27 January, the date in 1945 that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz.
In 2002, I joined an ad hoc committee that met in the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, with the aim of fulfilling Ireland’s commitment under the Stockholm Declaration. Dublin’s Lord Mayor offered to host the event, and the Irish Department of Justice came aboard with funding. My blueprint for the format of the inaugural Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2003 was accepted, and I was appointed Master of Ceremonies. Ireland’s Minister for Justice Michael McDowell apologised publicly for Ireland’s acts of omission and commission at the time of the Holocaust.
Holocaust Memorial Day soon came under the auspices of HETI – Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, and I was MC of the annual event for the next eleven years.
Days before the 2014 event, I received a verbal ultimatum from HETI: if I insisted on mentioning Israel or the Jewish state, I would be replaced as MC. HETI was referring to my closing remarks: “We must rededicate ourselves to preventing the memory of the Shoah being cynically trivialized and distorted by a vicious campaign that seeks to deny the Jewish people and the Jewish state their past and their future.” The words “and the Jewish state” were highlighted with a red marker. These words were deemed as “politicising” the event.
HETI’s ultimatum was not completely out of character. Two years earlier, my personal intervention was needed to prevent the Israeli Embassy from boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day, after HETI at first refused to allow the Ambassador to speak.
I responded to the ultimatum by pointing out the obvious connectivity between the Holocaust and Israel. As the judges said at the Eichmann trial in 1961: to argue that there was no connection between Jews in Israel and Jews murdered by the Nazis “is like cutting away the roots and branches of a tree and saying to its trunk: I have not hurt you.”
When I tried telling HETI that most of the world’s Holocaust survivors were in Israel, I was told that most survivors are in Australia. In itself, this reveals a woeful level of ignorance.
The Jewish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter – who knew nothing about the ultimatum – said in his 2014 address that as Europeans and European nations, we “should also have a greater understanding of legitimate concerns aroused by threats made to eliminate the Israeli state and by political campaigns sponsored by states or others to delegitimize its existence. It is right that we remember that Israel declared its independence in 1948, its existence as a state having been first sanctioned and endorsed by United Nations Resolution, and that a majority of that states citizens in 1948 were Jews who would likely have perished in Europe had they not resided there in the preceding decades and remnants of European Jewry who survived the Holocaust.”
I shared my misgivings about HETI’s ultimatum to me with HETI’s chair, pointing out the danger that HETI could be perceived as being more concerned with dead Jews than with live Jews. In October 2014, HETI’s chair reiterated in a letter to me that the HETI Board had decided that any future MC may not mention Israel or the Jewish state. In a second letter a week later, HETI’s chair informed me that following a review of Holocaust Memorial Day instigated by the Department of Justice, my services were no longer required as MC.