Speech by the General Commissioner (2s), Jean-Michel Thomas
President of the International Dachau Committee
30 April 2017.
The events that devastated Europe between 1940 and 1945 under the Nazi regime are not yet buried in the annals of history for a number of reasons.
First of all, because people who witnessed the horrors that occurred are still with us, and I respectfully greet the Dachau concentration camp survivors here today with us by offering them my gratitude. Alas, their ranks are growing thin, and I am thinking especially of the much regretted death last year of one of them, Max Mannheimer, former vice president of the CID, whose wisdom, benevolence and perspicacity will long continue to guide our commemorative activities here.
Secondly, this realization is due to the fact that the trauma of these past events is insurmountable and unforgettable for the people of Europe, who were so deeply affected by the Nazi deportations, and where Dachau was the training ground, and then the “model” for the genocidal and repressive system of concentration camps. It is our duty not to forget, and the mission of the Dachau memorial is to teach this history to successive generations.
Another aspect of this realization is that, 72 years after the end of the war and the liberation of the camp that we are commemorating here, today, reminders of those past events are commonplace, often much too commonplace and inappropriate to the present time.
Unfortunately, mentions of Nazism and use of its epithets now occur recklessly, unrestrainedly and disproportionately, even though Nazism continues to represent by far the lowest forms of cruelty and abjection. Social media can be used to exchange invectives, and some frustrated hot-heads, in want of substance and dreading blow-back, go so far as to call their interlocutor a “Nazi”, the strongest possible but nevertheless misused insult, and we would allow its use to spread only at our peril.
This ubiquitous presence of reminders of Nazism also still gives rise to waves of repulsiveness directed at entire segments of our national populace because they were exploited by Hitler. They are thus also capable of furtively discolouring how some people view our nation, its flag, its uniforms, the army or national defence forces, and consequently despise them unconscionably.
Lastly, we are too often still prone to use the Second World War as a lens for interpreting current events and characterising today’s world.
The Nazi mentality and its crimes, which left such an indelible impression on the entire world, are thus still with us and, unfortunately, are being rekindled by current events.
Last year, I personally mentioned the resurgence of fanaticism, terrorism and barbarity in a number of countries, where innocent people were murdered in the name of a totalitarian ideology, showing how a number of shared aspects in their motives and methods made them comparable to Nazism. My words of warning on that occasion, before the moment to Dachau, with its saying “Never again”, were not to be taken lightly because, since then, the list of victims has included 1,000 more dead and 1,800 more wounded as a result merely of attacks claimed by ISIS.
However, another event reminiscent of Hitler has unfortunately crossed the line of acceptability, in the odious vituperation against Chancellor Angela Merkel, accused of engaging in “Nazi practices”.
How can one be unmoved by such unjust offences to the leader of the German nation, who twice came to pay homage before this monument, confirming the very same location of the Dachau concentration camp? The CID was honoured to award her the André Delpech Prize, and on that occasion, she said to us:
“Maintaining this memory and monument pays tribute to the victims and serves to shape our lives of today and tomorrow. This memory is inseparably linked to our resolute and constant opposition to any form of radicalism, anti-semitism and racism - and to the defence of human rights, peace, liberty and freedom of expression. Only by working together in Europe can we preserve and strengthen these principles, so very precious and yet so vulnerable, that constitute the foundations of life with dignity.”
How also can one be unmoved by the subsequent insult, directed at us all, and I quote: “If Europeans were not overcome by shame, they would restore the gas chambers,” concerning decisions by the Netherlands and Germany to prohibit Turkish political officials from attending political meetings in their countries.
The CID has an obligation to solemnly denounce such scurrilous statements, and this ceremony allows it to do so.
Lastly, how can one be unmoved when a politician describes the monument in Berlin to 6 million Jewish and hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma victims as a “shameful monument”.
The CID has also written a public statement to commemorate all of the victims of Nazism, and the international commissions at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Natzweiler-Sruthof, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen have ralleyed round to express to all the officials of the Memorial Foundations and the Memorials to the camps their full support and sincere gratitude for their work in recalling Nazism, in reaction to that politician's statement which, instead, is a truly shameful act.