BERLIN (Jun. 16)
A group representing Auschwitz survivors will move its headquarters to Germany as part of its efforts to intensify the battle against anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Europe.
“The former inmates of the camps felt an urgent need to act,” Christoph Heubner, the executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said last Friday at the group’s general meeting. “They are getting anxious about what is going on at the moment, what is coming back in Europe.”
The committee, founded in 1952, works to help support Auschwitz survivors and further Holocaust education.
In addition to increasing its emphasis on eyewitness testimony and sponsoring visits to concentration camp memorials, the committee intends to step up political lobbying for additional Holocaust education.
“We will also be involved in the public discussion about anti-Semitism in every European society,” Heubner said.
Education about Jewish life and the Holocaust can help combat the current rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, the group’s leaders say.
Often, Heubner told JTA, non-Jewish Germans have their first encounter with Jews during meetings with Holocaust survivors.
“These people talk about Jewish life in European countries, how enriching it was,” said Heubner. “Talking about Jewish life does not only mean Auschwitz and death and horrifying things. It also means people living together.”
Last Friday’s announcement of the Auschwitz Committee’s move from Austria to Germany, where an estimated 100,000 Jews live, came during the group’s meeting in Oswiecim — the town in Poland where Auschwitz was located.
At the meeting, Noah Flug, a leader of Holocaust survivors in Israel, was elected president of the group.
Part of the new office’s function would be to better coordinate the activities of national branches, said Heubner, a 50-year-old German Protestant whose father, traumatized by his experience as a Nazi soldier, “educated his children in a pacifistic tradition.”
Taking this tradition to heart, Heubner volunteered when he was a young man with the German Protestant group Action Reconciliation, which sends young Germans around the world to work with former Holocaust survivors.
Today, Heubner — a writer by profession — works with the International Youth Meeting Center in Auschwitz.
Many educators and survivor groups agree that there is a drastic need for improvement in Holocaust education.
There is apparently a demand for information about Jewish life in Germany, judging by the more than 500,000 visitors to Berlin’s new Jewish Museum since it opened in September 2001.
But critics say it is often easier for the general public to deal with dead Jews than living ones.
Responding to increasing public anti-Semitism, Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has called for a drastic overhaul in the school curriculum, so that it includes lessons about Judaism and Jewish life.
In an interview last Friday, he said there are “shocking” gaps in knowledge about Judaism among school children.
Partly as a result of ignorance, he said, “the threshold for anti-Jewish statements is not merely lower, it is nonexistent.”