When the White House scribblers were putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address, President Obama took a moment to commemorate memory. Monday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most notorious of Hitler's death camps. "Each year on this day," he said, "the world comes together to commemorate a barbaric crime unique in human history."
But not quite the whole world. Anti-Semitism thrives in the Middle East, where certain politicians vie to see who can say the ugliest things about Jews, and such sentiment is surging in Europe. Bloody pig's heads were sent to the Israeli embassy, the Jewish Museum and a synagogue in Rome on the Saturday before the commemoration. Several thousand Frenchmen gathered on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Paris, chanting "Jew go home," and gave the "quenelle salute" -- a variation of the Nazi heil created by a popular French comedian who has many imitators on the street and on the Internet.
Even Holocaust Remembrance Day has its critics, who argue that the expression of easy sentiments does little to reduce the rising tide of anti-Semitism and may, in fact, dumb down memory. Since the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005, anti-Semitic incidents have grown across Europe and the Middle East.
Nevertheless, important voices were raised this year in commemoration. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the purpose of the grim anniversary: "The United Nations was founded to prevent any such horrors happening again." Catherine Ashton, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, said the occasion reminds everyone "to continue fighting prejudice and racism in our own time."
Lawmakers from the United States, Israel and Europe toured Auschwitz testifying to the cry, "Never again." Others died in the Holocaust, too, including homosexuals, gypsies and the racially "impure." But the commemoration reminded the world, killing 6 million men, women and children simply for being born a Jew was an attempt to extinguish a race.
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