BERLIN, Jan. 25 (JTA) — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke of his shame about the Holocaust — and survivor Kurt Julius Goldstein spoke of his anger. Before a crowd Tuesday that included elderly survivors as well as German high school students, Schroeder declared his “shame before those who were murdered — and to you, who survived the hell of the concentration camps,” adding, “We carry this burden in mourning, but also with a serious sense of responsibility.” Tuesday’s event, a Holocaust remembrance program attended by several hundred guests at the Deutsches Theater, was one of several programs across Germany marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet soldiers. Goldstein, who was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager and returned to live in Berlin, said he was shocked that Germany’s highest courts continue to protect the rights of neo-Nazis to demonstrate publicly — and, he said, to spread Holocaust denial. “It is inhumane, and we suffer under it,” Goldstein told the audience at the memorial, organized by the Berlin-based International Auschwitz Committee. Goldstein is the committee’s honorary president. His remarks came days after members of the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party of Germany used their parliamentary seats in the state of Saxony to belittle the Holocaust and declare their intention to reveal “the truth” about Germany history. The remarks drew outrage, and renewed calls for banning the party. “I am worried about the growth of neo-Nazism,” Petra Rosenberg, representing Roma in Germany, told the audience. Rosenberg, whose late father, Otto, survived Auschwitz, said it troubled her deeply to see the National Democratic Party “marching, getting into Parliament and threatening democracy.” Though Schroeder did not directly address the issue, he said “right-wing extremist forces, their dumb slogans and graffiti, are certainly getting the attention of the police and the department for constitutional protection.” He added, “But we ourselves have to take the political lead in confronting neo-Nazis and old Nazis.” Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress’ governing board, agreed. “Germany bears a particular and unforgivable responsibility” to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust, he said. Responsibility requires action, said Singer, who recently met with European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal to discuss creating a Europe-wide Holocaust curriculum using funds set aside for Holocaust education in several countries. German politicians, Jewish groups and individuals are involved in a flurry of activity to mark Auschwitz’s liberation. Together with Singer and a group of Auschwitz survivors, German President Horst Koehler was slated to fly to Poland for ceremonies at the camp memorial on Thursday. In Berlin, the Simon Wiesenthal Center planned to announce Wednesday the extension to Germany of its reward program for information on Nazi-era war criminals. Operation Last Chance already is up and running in several countries. Also in the German capital, the annual Obermayer German Jewish History awards are to be presented Thursday to Germans who have researched local Jewish history and built contacts with Jews around the world who came from their towns and cities. Among those at Tuesday’s event was Werner Krisch, 85, who was a prisoner for two years in Birkenau and has lived in Germany since the end of World War II. Most of the survivors he knew in Berlin have died, he said. Krisch, whose family was deported to the Lodz Ghetto in 1940, stayed in Communist East Germany after the war. Today, he said, “the Nazi brutes are coming out again.” “Anti-Semitism, racism of whatever kind, it is socially acceptable. We didn’t ever dream it could occur,” Krisch told JTA. “When you see that right-wing groups are attacking or killing defenseless people, and that most judges give them mild sentences, it is a very bad tendency. A shoplifter gets worse punishment than they do.” “Many youth today are not interested in this history,” Delia Pop, 17, one of many teens at the event, told JTA. “They say, ‘Ach, who cares, it’s not important.’ But I think it is important to learn because society is endangered.”
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.