In Washington D.C., Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior and Chair of the National Coordination Body for the Croatian IHRA Presidency Davor Božinović, Ambassador Terezija Gras, Co-Chair of the Croatian IHRA Presidency, and Pjer Šimunović, the Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United States of America attended the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum leads the observation of the Days of Remembrance, established by the US Congress as the country’s annual Holocaust commemoration. Since 1982, the Holocaust Memorial Museum has organized and led the national Days of Remembrance, which brings together Holocaust survivors, Members of Congress, White House officials, the diplomatic corps, and community leaders.
The ceremony on Thursday 20 April 2023 at the US Congress joined nations around the globe in bearing witness to one of the darkest chapter in human history and payed tribute to the six million Jews who were systematically and savagely murdered during the Holocaust, as well as Roma and Sinti, Slavs, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and political dissidents. It also remembered and honored the survivors and payed tribute to the US Army Divisions that liberated the concentration camps in April and May 1945. The power of their history and the moving testimonies of survivors are main to be the most compelling source of inspiration in confronting antisemitism, all forms of group-targeted hate, and genocide.
At the beginning of the ceremony Stuart E. Eizenstat, Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and Special Adviser to Secretary of State Blinken on Holocaust Issues reminded that the survivors remain to be our most important teachers and substantiated this fact by quoting Elie Wiesel: “The survivors willingness to share their knowledge, their faith, their pain, even their agony is motivated solely by their conviction that their survival was for a purpose.” He continued by emphasizing that “the survivors see themselves as the guardian of the truth of the deaths and fear that he or she may be the last to remember, the last to warn, the last to tell the tale that must be told in its totality before it is too late.” He reminded that this years gathering happens “nearly eight decades after the end of the war during which the survivors built their lives and families, made innumerable contributions to the united states of the world and fulfilled Elie Wiesels aspiration to build a global memory movement and “ensure that the testimonies of the survivors are enforced for good, serve as a warning against evil in the world and as a lesson and inspiration for the future.”
Almost eight decades after the war, he added, “the world was expected to live up to its postwar declaration of “never again to antisemitism, to radicalization, to hatred of those who are different and to genocide. Clearly this is not our world today.” That is why, Eizenstat underlined, we need the message of the survivors more than ever, reminding the audience gathered at the Congress that “the Holocaust was not inevitable, it was preventable” as there were numerous warning signs that went unnoticed by the leaders of the world just as there are numerous warning signs of all genocides and crimes against humanity since the Holocaust. What made them possible in the past, namely indifference and silence, is making them again possible today.
Learning these lessons is urgently needed in our time as the Holocaust is receding in memory. As a consequence “we witness Holocaust ignorance, denial, distortion and manipulation, spreading like a virus through social media“, Eizenstat emphasized and continued by warning that distortion and trivialization of WWII are again being used to justify Russia’s outrageous invasion on the Ukraine. Moreover, antisemitic attacks on Jews and synagogues are on the rise. He concluded citing Ambassador Lipstadt who rightly warns that “the lessons of the Holocaust are not only timeless, they are timely again.”
In her keynote speech Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, expressed her concern about “the rise of antisemitism, which flourishes where there are Jews, and where there are no Jews.” As a means of dealing with this and other ambiguities regarding the nature of this hatred Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “enthusiastically embraced the non-legally binding IHRA working definition on antisemitism”, she added.
As the most important goal of her tenure in office Ambassador Lipstadt expressed “her hope to be able to reduce the proliferation of expressions of antisemitism” and “to enhance the worlds understanding that the fight against antisemitism is not a Jewish issue, that it is much more than an attack on Jews: that it is an attack on democracy.” She reminded that this is why President Biden, Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Blinken, as well as governors and lawmakers from both sides of the isle, rightfully consider antisemitism not just a threat to a particular group of Americans, but also a threat to democracy and international security.
She continued by underlining that “for decades Americans have dealt with antisemitism as a problem for other countries to resolve, while in America it was considered more theoretically than tangible,” which is, regrettably, no longer the case. “Antisemitism is on the rise worldwide, the United States included. In fact the issue has become so urgent that President Biden in December last year ordered federal departments and agencies to come together to develop the first National Strategy to counter this vicious hatred”, as the same have already done numerous countries, including the European Union. She called upon all “who see something to say something” and warned that “saying nothing emboldens the antisemite and normalizes prejudice.” She concluded by reminding that “speaking out might be costly but that keeping silent is even costlier.”
The National Days of Remembrance enabled survivors, who attended the ceremony, to share their moving testimonies of the Holocaust. They were supported by representatives of young Americans declaring their commitment to remember the Holocaust. Theodora Dora Klayman, a Holocaust survivor from Croatia and volunteer at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum shared her personal experience of the Holocaust in Ludbreg while holding a photo of her parents with her when she was two years old. The parents of Dora Klayman were deported and murdered in Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška.
After the ceremony Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Davor Božinović and Co-Chair of the Croatian IHRA Presidency Ambassador Terezija Gras had the opportunity for a short exchange with Special Envoy Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, informing her about the priorities and upcoming events of the Croatian IHRA Presidency.