Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned against the rise of far-right rhetoric in Ireland. “Many people in Ireland are rightly concerned about the rise of disinformation, antisemitism, all forms of racism and the trend towards Holocaust distortion and denial,” he said.
Speaking at a Holocaust Memorial event in Dublin’s Mansion House on Sunday evening, Mr Varadkar said this year, the need to remember the horrors of the Holocaust seemed “particularly significant”.
“Peace is fragile. The rule of law, democracy and human rights must be actively protected. Vigilance remains the price of freedom. The need to be ever vigilant, to truly understand the extent of the dangers of dehumanising individuals,” he said.
“Russia’s evil and brutal war in Ukraine has resulted in the biggest displacement of Europe we’ve seen since world war 2 and the largest influx of refugees Ireland has ever seen. Racism and hatred and violence can never tolerated.”
Suzi Diamond, a survivor of a concentration camp, who along with her brother Terry, was taken to Ireland by a doctor immediately after the war, urged young people to “speak out about hate speech, about bullying, about Holocaust denial”.
She implored young people to “keep the memory of the Holocaust alive” as she felt “mindful that time is passing too quickly for my contemporaries and for me... What we experienced took place in the middle of the last century, far too distant for young people today to understand the enormity of what happened”.
Tomi Reichental, a survivor of the Holocaust who lives in Ireland, recalled being “herded into a cattle car and from that moment onwards, treated like animals” when he was captured at just nine years old, alongside his family members.
Between November 1944 until the liberation in April 1945, Mr Reichental remained at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“What I witnessed as a nine-year-old boy is impossible to describe. The starvation, the cruelty of the camp guards, the cold and disease... In front of our barracks there were piles of decomposing corpses,” he said.
The role of far-right extremists in spreading anti-semitism, as well denial and distortion of the Holocaust, was also highlighted at the commemoration by chair of Holocaust Education Ireland, Prof Thomas O’Dowd.
“It is vital that the lessons from the Holocaust are never forgotten and that we guard against antisemitism, Holocaust denial and hate speech. These declarations and acts were hateful and wrong in the 1930s and remain so today,” he said.
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Far-right extremism is threatening to diminish society’s learning from the Holocaust, he said, noting that “Holocaust Memorial Day cherishes the memory of all of the people who perished in the Holocaust and recalls the millions of victims who were persecuted because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliations or their religious beliefs”.
In Ireland “we have a small handful of Jewish survivors who were themselves victims of the Holocaust all those years ago. With each passing year, we are mindful of their declining numbers as we undertake to tell their stories and recall what happened to their families and compatriots,” he said.
Also in attendance were second- and third-generation survivors Caryna Camerino and Nichola Zinn-Collis, with recorded reflections of Joe Veselsky along with representatives of other minorities killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, including people with disabilities and disabling conditions, Roma and Sinti, members of the LGBT+ community, political victims, Christians, and Jewish people.
The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman, former Minister of Justice Nora Owen, President of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland Leonard Abrahamson, Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, and Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning all attended the event on Sunday.
Students from Stratford College in Dublin, Presentation College in Kilkenny, Gorey Community School in Wexford, and St David’s Holy Faith Secondary School at Greystones in Wicklow read from the ‘Scrolls of Names’ of Holocaust victims, to help ensure they do not become just anonymous, faceless numbers.
The memorial event was organised by Holocaust Education Ireland in association with Dublin City Council and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.