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Czech President says Nazi genocide of Jews cannot be "relativized" with Nazi plans to exterminate Czechs

Terezín, 16.5.2011 18:26, (ROMEA)
ilustrační foto

Today people commemorated the victims of Nazi persecution during WWII at the National Cemetery at Terezín, Czech Republic. Czech President Václav Klaus spoke during the commemoration ceremony and emphasized that even 66 years after the war, its horrors must be remembered. He also condemned the crimes committed after the war by Czech people against others of Roma or German origin, but added that the context in which those crimes had been committed could not be overlooked, nor could the real cause of the war and the violence that followed it.

Klaus also criticized efforts to "relativize" the Nazi genocide of the Jews and the Nazi plans for exterminating the Czech nation. "I am disturbed that with the passage of only two or three generations, the context is starting to be obscured. Mention is starting to be made just of particulars taken out of context," Klaus said, adding that while individual crimes must be named, condemned, and remembered, the larger context must not be covered up.

"We cannot allow a focus on crimes committed by individuals during the war and the postwar period - not crimes coolly designed and organized by the state - to erase the understanding in the minds of the generations that did not experience this period of the causes and results of that history," Klaus said. In his view, such attempts should disturb the public more than present-day neo-Nazi "storm troopers", whom he said will not gain great strength in the Czech Republic or in the region.

Klaus, Czech lower house chair Miroslava Němcová, Vice-Chair of the Czech Senate Alena Palečková and representatives of other state authorities and institutions laid flowers and wreaths at the National Cemetery. The ceremony was attended by representatives of many embassies and organizations and was followed by several hundred people, who were also able to tour the Monument for free once the ceremony was over.

The commemorative ceremony in Terezín is a regular meeting that honors the memory of those who suffered in repressive facilities during the time of the Nazi occupation in the Terezín ghetto, in the police prisons run by the Prague Gestapo in the Small Fortress at Terezín, and in te concentration camp in Litoměřice. The ceremony has been held annually ever since WWII ended.

The Nazis deported as many as 155 000 Jewish people from all over Europe to the Terezín ghetto from 1941-1945. As many as 117 000 did not live to see the ghetto liberated. As many as 32 000 men and women underwent imprisonment by the Gestapo in the Small Fortress, 2 600 of whom perished in Terezín, while thousands more perished in other Nazi camps.

In 1947, the memory of these people was honored by the Monument to National Suffering, which was later renamed the Terezín Memorial. The first exhibition there was held in 1949. In 1991, the Ghetto Museum was created to document the fates of the Jewish people interned there. In 1997, an exhibition was added in the Magdeburg Barracks where one can see, for example, replicas of the temporary buildings erected in the ghetto and exhibits dedicated to the art created there. The Terezín Memorial is among the most-visited memorials in the Czech Republic.

Selections from the speech given by Czech President Václav Klaus during today's commemorative ceremony at Terezín:

"It may seem to some people that it is already fruitless to speak today, 66 years after the end of the Second World War, of the horrors that took place during and immediately after the war, in all of the complexity of their causal connections. I am not one of those people. I am disturbed that with the passage of only two or three generations, the context is starting to be obscured. Mention is starting to be made just of particulars taken out of context. More and more emphasis is placed on the fact that the Czech side committed crimes after the war, the murder of innocents, violence, that even among the Czechs there were criminals and sadists who abused German or Roma prisoners. Yes, there is no doubt that in many cases that did happen and we cannot keep silent about it. These individual crimes must be named, condemned, and also remembered. We must know about them and if we want to understand ourselves, we must also be capable of understanding the pain of those were victimized.

However, we must make some fundamental distinctions. We cannot allow a focus on crimes committed by individuals during the war and the postwar period - not crimes coolly designed and organized by the state - to erase the understanding in the minds of the generations that did not experience this period of the causes and results of that history. The genocide of the Jews and the Nazi plans to liquidate the Czech nation cannot be relativized. We cannot allow such efforts to make the guilt of the aggressors and their victims symmetrical, we cannot forget who unleashed this national and racial hatred, who made it an official state policy, and who fanatically carried out that policy with a brutality never before seen until the very end.

It is our responsibility to protect historical truth. It is our responsibility to protect democracy and the humanist ideals on which our civilization is based. That is the only way to ensure that the sad and terrible tragedy we annually commemorate here will become a very instructive history."

The President's full speech can be accessed at http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/2833 (Czech only)

ČTK, František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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