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Czech Jewish Community says speeches at Terezín commemoration were anti-German, nationalist and xenophobic

17.5.2016 11:38
Czech Police marking the arms of refugees with numbers sparked criticism in September 2015. According to Italian Jewish organizations and other commentators, the practice is reminiscent of the Holocaust. (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Czech Police marking the arms of refugees with numbers sparked criticism in September 2015. According to Italian Jewish organizations and other commentators, the practice is reminiscent of the Holocaust. (Collage: Romea.cz)

Jewish communities in the Czech Republic say the speech given by the chair of the Czech Senate, Milan Štěch (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) during Sunday's commemoration at Terezín was anti-German and nationalist. Likewise, the speech given by the head of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union, Jaroslav Vodička, was xenophobic because of the remarks it included about refugees.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Jewish Community in Prague communicated their dismay in a joint statement yesterday. Štěch rejects the assertion that his speech was anti-German.

Both speeches, according to the Jewish organizations, were inappropriate for an event that is supposed to commemorate the victims of Nazi persecution. The Czech Freedom Fighters' Union claims to represent resistance fighters or soldiers who fought against the Nazis during the Second World War.

"Vodička, the chair of that Union, called the current migration into Europe an invasion and resorted to crude xenophobic stereotypes. Irrespective of anybody's personal opinions regarding the current policy on migrants here, we consider such remarks unacceptable," the Jewish communities' statement reads.

According to international organizations, most refugees who have recently been arriving in Europe come from Iraq and Syria, where a war is raging that has taken the lives of almost half a million victims in Syria alone. However, Vodička said during the commemorative ceremony that the refugees are not fleeing war.

"They are fleeing in order to benefit from the European economic and social system built by us over the years and through the work of the generations before us. They are not fleeing because they have no freedom at home - and even when that is the case, they don't want to fight for change to benefit their people," Vodička said.

During the ceremony, Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon reacted to Vodička's words in part as follows: "Jewish people have a different experience, because they themselves lived this problem during the war, the problem of the states that would not make it possible for them to emigrate away from the countries occupied by or at risk of being occupied by the Germans. They all perished not just because the Germans murdered them, but also because the non-Jewish world - and ultimately even parts of the Jewish world as well - closed the doors that would have saved them, and we should be aware of that at this exact moment, when these people are coming here and others are saying they should stay and fight for their freedom instead."

Vodička's speech has been condemned by other Czech figures. According to religious studies scholar and theologian Ivan Štampach, hearing it was an awful experience.

"Today, on the occasion of the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Terezín and the commemoration of the victims of Nazi persecution there, Jaroslav Vodička, chair of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union, has abused the commemoration ceremony to promote sentiments that are Islamophobic, nationalist and xenophobic," Štampach wrote on Sunday after the ceremony. The chair of the  TOP 09 party's club of MPs in the lower house, Czech MP František Laudát, also called the speech embarrassing tripe.

"Mr Vodička gave a speech at a site of death and suffering that is apparently without precedent. He described migration as an organized process, most migrants as economic ones, the public broadcast media as distorting reality - not even the children of refugees were spared his commentary. My blood ran cold listening to that speech," said Laudát, who criticized Štěch's speech as well.

The Jewish organizations criticized that speech too. "The main speech given by the chair of the Senate, Milan Štěch, was delivered in an anti-German, nationalist spirit which in our opinion is inappropriate for a commemorative ceremony 71 years after the end of the Second World War," the Jewish communities' statement reads.

Among other things, Štěch declared in his speech at the National Cemetery during the commemoration ceremony that it was not possible to compare the violence committed by the Nazis to the violence perpetrated by Czechs during the expulsion of the Germans after the war. "The crimes committed during the expulsion were the work of specific individuals, while the Nazi crimes perpetrated during the occupation were a component of an official, planned political campaign of the German state," the Senator said.

"I am of the opinion that nobody who actually listened to my speech could call it anti-German. The only thing it can possibly be called is anti-Nazi. In my speech, among other things, I expressly mentioned that Germany can be a model for us with regard to how it has come to grips with its past," Štěch told the Czech News Agency. 


ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Extremism, Nacionalismus, Terezín, Xenophobia, Židé



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