Open Letter: Conveners of Holocaust commemoration are too quiet after politician disgraced it
I decided to write an open letter to the convening organizations of the annual commemoration at the memorial to the Terezín concentration camp because the memory of the victims of Nazism has been disgraced there more than once now. This happened most recently on 19 May 2019, when the President of the Senate, Jaroslav Kubera, gave a speech there desecrating their memory.
The organizer who invited the nationalist xenophobe [Czech MP] Jaroslav Foldyna to the ceremony this year did not leave him in the background, but mentioned him as one of the first guests in the welcoming remarks (you can see the welcome he was given at 16:31 in the Czech Television footage of the ceremony here. In addition to other matters, Foldyna has recently belittled Holocaust victims of Romani origin.
After sending this letter, I received an answer from the Federation of Jewish Communities. I have included it here.
Open Letter to the Institutions and Organizations Convening the 2019 Terezín Commemorative Ceremony
To: the Czech Culture Ministry, the Terezín Memorial, the Ústecký Regional Authority, the City of Terezín, the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, the Terezín Initiative
cc: [media outlets, individuals and organizations]
Prague, 22 May 2019
Esteemed representatives of institutions and organizations,
I am the son of a woman who passed through three Nazi concentration camps - Terezín, Auschwitz, Flossenbürg and then, at the end of the war, after surviving a death march, she ended up at Terezín again, where she and her sister were liberated by the Red Army. Her parents, my grandparents, were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Mother was a member of the Jewish Community in Prague.
It is with disgust that I have been following the desecration of the memory of the Jews and Czechs who suffered and were murdered at Terezín, as various speakers, during the Terezín commemoration, have exploited the occasion to engage in xenophobic propaganda or to score political points by making populist, ideological declarations. None of the organizers have responded to these abuses as they should. I recall the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic spoke up in 2016 when this happened, but the representatives of all the other organizations kept quiet at that moment, as if nothing had happened.
The xenophobic speech made by Jaroslav Vodička that year became infamous - he was the then-chair of the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union who attacked refugees across the board by saying these words: "They are fleeing not with a desire to defend their homelands, they are fleeing in order to mine our European socioeconomic system, which was built over the years by the work of the generations before us." Most of the refugees who were arriving in Europe at that time came from Iraq and Syria, countries where armed conflicts and war had already taken the lives of many victims. I am glad that organization is no longer among the organizers of the Terezín commemoration and I am grateful to whomever arranged that.
Of course, back then none of the organizers ever said they were bothered by the presence at the ceremony of [Czech MP] Tomio Okamura, the chair for life of the fascisizing "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, or of the nationalist, xenophobic vice-chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), [Czech MP] Jaroslav Foldyna.
At this year's ceremony, the President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Jaroslav Kubera, was not forgiving of speech that is hateful toward different opinions. However, according to him, totalitarianism and intolerance toward other races is taking an absolutely different form today: "For example, it is veiled by the words ecology, environment, equality of the sexes, political correctness, and multiculturalism," he said.
The director of the Terezín Memorial, Jan Roubínek, officially welcomed Foldyna to the ceremony again this year, since somebody must invite him in his capacity as a guest. I would remind you that this member of the ČSSD belittled Holocaust victims of Romani origin. He also enjoys traveling with the Night Wolves, a motorcycle gang of pro-Putin Russians infamous for their violence, including murders, and for their grim nationalism.
Esteemed organizers, I consider ceremonies conducted in this way to be a desecration of the memory of the victims of Nazism, including the memory of those who survived, not ceremonies of reverence paying respect to them. I can assure you that my grievances are shared by many of my acquaintances and friends.
I am asking you, therefore, to unequivocally condemn the speech made by Jaroslav Kubera, by saying that while you respect his right to his opinions, a commemorative ceremony is not the place for them. I am also asking that you stop inviting people like Okamura or Foldyna to this ceremony.
Answer from the Federation of Jewish Communities
Dear Mr Kostlán,
We have received your attachment about the Terezín commemorative ceremony.
As an organizer of that event we were also surprised by the half-sentence in which the President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Mr Kubera, compared certain contemporary phenomena to attempts to establish a new totalitarianism. Nevertheless, that was the only point of contention in his entire speech, which was otherwise of high quality, and for that reason we do not consider it appropriate to condemn it in its entirety. Naturally, we will convey these negative reactions to the senator.
We assume you noted a fundamental change to this year's commemoration ceremony, in that the Czech Freedom Fighters' Union did not appear there as a co-organizer. There were also essential changes made to the protocol of the event.
MP Foldyna attended the ceremony on behalf of the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Mr. Vondráček, to whom the invitation was addressed, which is absolutely legitimate from the standpoint of protocol.
This year's ceremony, therefore, took place in a very dignified spirit, from our perspective - with the exception of Senator Kubera's remark - and it was not disrupted by the attendance of the so-called "Domobrana" ("Territorial Militia"), who were removed from the area of the assembly by the appropriate authorities without members of the public noticing their presence.
JUDr. Tomáš Kraus, Secretary, Federation of Jewish Communities
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