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File photo of wreaths laid before a commemoration ceremony today at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin DPA/PA Images

President Higgins says rise of extremism 'deeply worrying' before 75th Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

THE EMERGING TREND of a rise in extremist language and politics across Europe is “deeply worrying”, President Michael D Higgins said ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz today. 

The president gave a speech at the National Holocaust Memorial Day in the Mansion House yesterday evening. Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. 

“As time continues to pass, and as we move further away chronologically from that darkest period of history, it becomes thus even more imperative that we understand the importance of remembering what led to that barbaric chapter, its consequences, and learn from it,” Higgins said at the event last night hosted by the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland (HETI). 

“It would be a grievous error to consign the Holocaust or the lessons that should be learnt from it to a past that was assumed to be no longer relevant in our modern world.”

Higgins will be joining other heads of state and survivors of the camp in Auschwitz today for the 75th anniversary of its liberation.

More than 200 survivors of the camp will be gathering at the camp to mark the anniversary. Many of them lost parents and grandparents in the camps. 

More than 1.1 million people were killed in Auschwitz during the holocaust, nearly all of whom were Jewish.  

Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945. 

“In the eight years since I first spoke at the Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration in Dublin, it is deeply worrying to observe an emerging trend of the rise of extremist language and politics across the streets of Europe, one that seeks to exploit what is often a loss of trust, but much more frequently informs a populism that invokes fear, exclusion and rejection of the ‘Other’,” President Higgins said last night. 

“We are witnessing the growing rise of various forms of a corrupted, distorted version of an exclusionary and often bogus, indeed mythical, type of nationalism on virtually every continent.

“The toxicity of anti-Semitism is not absent from this rhetoric, and it should be identified and condemned for what it is – an invitation to hatred and hate speech,” said Higgins.  

sheikh-mohammed-al-eissa-during-the-75th-auschwitz-anniversary-in-oswiecim-poland-23-jan-2020 The main gate of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland. SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, said today it is “vital that we pass on this knowledge of the horrors inflicted on humanity” as time passes and fewer survivors are left to testify what happened. 

“We cannot overestimate how important it is to educate ourselves about the Holocaust; to ensure that such an atrocity is never allowed to occur again. Hatred and prejudice have no place in today’s society,” Coveney said in a statement today. 

Yesterday evening, survivors and their families walked to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland. 

“I have no graves to go to and I know my parents were murdered here and burned. So this is how I pay homage to them,” said Yvonne Engelman, a 92-year-old who came from Australia, joined by three more generations now scattered around the globe. 

A 96-year-old survivor, Jeanette Spiegel, was 20 when she was brought to Auschwitz, where she spent nine months.

Today she lives in New York City and is fearful of rising anti-Semitic violence in the United States.

“I think they pick on the Jews because we are such a small minority and it is easy to pick on us,” she said.

“Young people should understand that nothing is for sure, that some terrible things can happen and they have to be very careful. And that, God forbid, what happened to the Jewish people then should never be repeated.”

With reporting by Associated Press. 

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