Ceremony honors Holocaust victims, Europe looks at tragedy's lessons|
Holocaust Rememberance Day marks the 63rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising. Commemorations in honor of the victims were held throughout the
Czech Republic, and education ministers from across Europe met for a
second day of talks on Holocaust education. An elderly survivor at one
memorial in Prague reads the names and fates of many Czech Holocaust
victims: A ghetto, a concentration camp, and the end.
An organizer explains:
"My name is Michal Frankl. I am from the Terezin Institute in Prague,
and today we have a commemoration of the victims of the Yom ha Shoah
(Holocaust) from the Czech lands and other prisoners from the former
Terezin Ghetto. The program of this commemorative event is very simple.
Basically, it's reading names. Also, we are showing photos of the victims
that should illustrate what happened to them."
The commemoration was organized by the Terezin Initiative Institute and
the Czech Union of Jewish Students. The date for Holocaust Remembrance Day
was not chosen by chance, according to Mr. Frankl.
"This is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which started
according to the non-Jewish calendar on April 19, 1943. The resistance
groups in the Warsaw Ghetto succeeded; not to save their lives, but to
defend themselves against the Germans for a significant period of
During the four-hour commemoration, survivors, students and some who were
just passing through the park took turns reading more than 3,000 names
from a stack of paper nearly two inches thick. The list is just a fraction
of the nearly 78,000 Czech Holocaust victims whose names are inscribed on
the walls inside the Pinkas Synagogue. Daniel Kolsky, president of the
Union of Jewish Students, tells why Yom ha Shoah is so important to the
some 230 members of his organization.
"For all of our members, it's a very personal thing. It's very much
connected with their families, with the fact that their grandparents went
through the Shoah."
As the names were read, a slideshow displayed the faces and names of the
victims on a large screen behind the lectern. About twenty feet in front
of the stage, volunteers handed out small booklets with these photos and a
short story about the lives of the victims. Zuzana Kosakova, from the Union
of Jewish Students, says that after she visited the Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington D.C. she wanted to personalize - and publicize - the
experience of victims to keep their memories alive.
"And I thought maybe the Yom ha Shoah would be a good day to tell
people, and show them that the Holocaust victims were real people. To show
them the photograph of the people and tell them, 'this was the person, this
was their information,' so that they can personally feel how the Holocaust
Michal Frankl agrees. His organization is working to build a database,
called the Terezin Album project, which will put a face and story to Czech
Holocaust victims. He hopes that the Terezin Album project resembles a
Meanwhile, across town at Charles University, Former President Vaclav
Havel answers questions after his keynote address. He spoke before a
seminar of European education ministers. During his speech Mr. Havel
described the Holocaust as a terrible example of what can happen when
people give in to the temptation to hate. The ministers were gathered for
a second day of discussions about the teaching of the Holocaust in
After the conference, the rector of Charles University, Vaclav Hampl, says
the state of Holocaust education in the Czech Republic is good but adds
that the topic must be approached differently than all others.
"We are used to attacking scientific problems in a way that a theory
is attacked. We look for reasons why it is, or it is not, correct. That's
okay with many scientific problems and so on. With the Holocaust, because
it is so sensitive of an issue both for the victims and their relatives
and also politically sensitive, it is kind of difficult to apply this
One reason for this difficulty is the risk of Holocaust denial. Deniers
themselves use pseudo-scientific arguments.
"Still, we cannot pretend to the students that it is not possible to
apply scientific methods to the Holocaust. It is. But we need to be aware
that any discussions are at the theoretic level. It's not anything like a
political rejection of the fact of the Holocaust."
Piles of documents, photographs and official testimonies are all evidence
of the Holocaust. Camps and crematoria still stand. And of course there
are the memories of the survivors. Some who survived the ghetto in Terezin
told their stories on Monday to this week's conference.
The ministers emphasized two main elements in Holocaust education. One is
to learn from experience, to see the warning signs that led to this
tragedy. The second is to remember the victims - not all of whom were
Jewish. An estimated half-million Roma died in the Second World War, and
anyone whom Hitler's regime classified as "undesirable" could be
sent to the camps. That's another reason why organizers made Tuesday's
commemoration public, according to Michal Frankl.
"With this we want to stress that the victims whose names we read
were not just Jews. They were also citizens of Prague, or other
inhabitants of the Czech lands. They were integrated into their societies,
and their commemoration is not just a matter for the Jewish
With each passing year, fewer and fewer survivors remain to tell their
stories, and the brutal reality of the Holocaust grows more distant.
Daniel Kolsky says that's why it's so important to remember that the
victims were not just statistics, but real people.
"The people are already dying. The generation of our grandparents is
dying. We are really looking for some documents. We are really missing the
actual people who lived in the time. It's very important for us to find
these personal stories, because these personal stories are something you
can understand. You cannot understand six million people. You cannot
imagine it. By doing these personal documents and small remarks and
remembrances on the real people, we believe we actually help to understand
what the Shoah was."
Understand what happened, and know what to look for, so that it never