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An Pluiméir Ceolmhar Auschwitz and other mass murder (165* d) RE: Auschwitz and other mass murder 30 Jan 05

For the past few weeks, TV stations in all the countries of Northwestern Europe which we receive here by cable have been broadcasting an unprecedented number of programmes to commemorate or inform people about the holocaust. The culmination was on 27 January, when quite a few did live broadcasts of the commemoration ceremonies which took place in Auschwitz on the anniversary of that camp's liberation. Some speakers on that occasion couldn't resist the temptation to instrumentalise the occasion for their own purposes, but on the whole it was an impressive effort.

That such a level of commemoration is necessary is reflected in the fact that, in spite of all the cynical press hoo-ha about young Prince Harry's distasteful fancy-dress costume, according to a recent survey something like one-third of people in Britain and no less than two-thirds of those under 30 years of age had never heard of Auschwitz.

My own little country managed, by accident of geography as much as of history, to remain neutral during the second world war, but its shame is its failure to take in Jewish refugees in the years preceding the war. Most countries have similar reason not to boast.

To its credit, West Germany has done much to apply the lessons of the past to the present, but I am not sure that countries like the former East Germany, Austria, or the countries which either allied themselves to Nazi Germany or were "liberated" by it have made the same efforts. I am, nevertheless, a little uneasy about the recent trend in history programming on German TV, and the timing of some of the recent programmes on the holocaust suggests that management felt they'd better put on something, but not at a time when it would upset prime-time viewership figures.

I was pleased that it was a Jewish interviewee on BBC who reminded the interviewer that Jews were not the only victims. He was able to make the point without misunderstanding, but it was courageous and dignified on his part. One of the more incongruous beam-in-thine-own-eye moments, on the other hand, was Jeremy Paxman suggesting to a German spokesman that Germany has not come to terms with its history. Prince Harry's gaffe was the incarnation of Britain's failure in this respect, a failure sustained by the tabloid rags that attacked him.

The Council of Europe has for many years been promoting the teaching of remembrance and preventing crimes against humanity. At its suggestion, many countries have designated a special day devoted to teaching these messages in schools. Anyone interested in educational materials which they have jointly produced can check out
this website.

The European Parliament has now recommended that all EU countries make 27 January a day of remembrance of genocide. The idea is not to wallow in the sordid events of the past, but to draw lessons from it for the present and future.

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