Holocaust Memorial Day Part 2: The Importance of Preserving the Memory of the Holocaust

Every year, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day which is commemorated on 27 January the world recalls the greatest suffering in the history of mankind. It is a day when we remember the millions of people who were taken to concentration camps and were killed.

This article was initially published on Reporting Diversity 2.0

This article is part of a series. You can read the first part here.

By Snežana Miletić

For historian Milovan Pisarri, director of the Center for Public History/Belgrade, the Holocaust is a topic that must be addressed primarily by the education system, which must instill in young generations that what happened to Jews must not be repeated.

“It takes political will, but also joint work. Everyone should participate: scientists, teachers, cultural workers, artists and especially politicians, ” Pisarri tells RDN 2.0. He reminds us that almost all European countries, especially Germany, learned a lot from the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.

“We do not have what is needed to build a serious culture of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust, and that lies with dealing with the past,” says Pisarri.

Pisarri believes that the growth of right-wing and racist tendencies in various political parties which, in some countries, are parts of the government, have also influenced the growth of antisemitism and relativization of the Holocaust.

“In general, it could be said that awareness of these issues has increased, especially in the last ten years, a lot has been done in the field of education about the Holocaust and the culture of remembrance. The media also more often deal with the issue of the suffering of Jews. On the other hand, if we look a little deeper, the awareness of that suffering encompasses only certain categories of the population: this includes those who have read something about it, learned something in school, heard something. Unfortunately, many still did not have that opportunity, while many others, although they know something, perceive it only as historical information, and not as the most terrible crime that humanity has ever seen and which can, in certain circumstances, be repeated if we do not build a solid culture of peace, tolerance, solidarity and equality, ” he says.

Pisarri thus notes that in Serbia, Holocaust Remembrance Day coincides with the religious holiday of Saint Sava (Sveti Sava), so in general not much is said about the martyred Jews, but much more attention is paid to the founder of the Serbian church. He also notes that, although there is an awareness of the terrible suffering of the Holocaust, strong anti-Semitic stereotypes can be heard which they reproduce the most terrible Nazi propaganda. Pisarri emphasizes that stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination are important indicators that speak of the potential danger of another ethnic group becoming a victim of a new genocide in certain historical circumstances. In that sense, Roma and migrants are in a potentially dangerous situation, among other things, because violent attacks on them happen almost every day in Europe. He also mentions that those who are responsible of addressing this topic are the political classes in power and not ordinary people.

“For decades, Yugoslavia was ruled by political classes that used nationalism, hatred of others and the strategy of scapegoating to make their own profits – and that is not always just money, but power. That led to the genocide in Srebrenica, to various massacres, persecutions, and suffering of enormous proportions. Unfortunately, those same political classes continue to use these tools, and the people are simply brainwashed. Their ability to think critically has essentially been destroyed by various tabloids, TV series and shows, and empty political speeches,” Milovan Pisarri tells RDN 2.0.

Historian Olga Manojlovic Pintar believes that we ought to “live” the memory of the Holocaust every day through the relationship to others as well as through history and through the present. However, she mentions that in countries such as Serbia nationalist ideologies are being reaffirmed again and again, which do not provide space for new value systems and new types of connections. Manojlovic Pintar believes that this situation is largely a product of the lack of alternative ideological concepts that would provide a basis for a different understanding of individuals and social groups. She points out that we need the affirmation of the idea that change begins in every person.

For the Vice President of the Jewish Community of Novi Sad, Professor Dr. Mirjana Kranjac, the first woman in this position, the memory of the Holocaust always has a sublime dimension, but also quite a real one which is manifested through empathy, connection, helping, supporting, understanding, forgiveness and remembering.

“The times we live in are difficult, we did not deserve them, and especially in them we need to understand each other. The Jewish community has lived and lives through such times, and it is the memory of the Holocaust that has sustained it through all the bad things that have happened. The Jewish community takes care of each member. Each member carries tremendous pain with it. Many were left alone. We have no relatives, we have no mementos, we have no photographs. We have memories, and we stick to those memories and pass them on to the younger generations, to be known, to never be forgotten. We try to teach others to take care of each other. We take care of each individual, and each name that perished. We are trying to share our experiences with others, especially the Serbian community – and I am a child from a mixed marriage: my father is a Serb, my mother a Jew, and I have been following what is happening in those two worlds all my life. Listen, help, support, educate, that’s the only way people can understand, read between the lines, understand and take a step forward, see what will happen. Only those who understood – were saved. These times should teach us to sharpen our sense of what will be. To do it by cooperating and helping each other. This is the only way we can survive in difficult times when the key pillars of society are collapsing, from education to culture, ” said Dr. Mirjana Kranjac. 

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