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Holocaust Remembrance and Senseless Goodness

27 January commemorations in Spain

Our series of interviews about Holocaust Remembrance Day in Europe continues. We asked Juan Gutierrez, one of the hosts of meeting Cities Destroyed by War held in San Sebastian at the end of November, to tell us how this recurrence is celebrated in Spain.

In Spain, Holocaust remembrance is deeply felt by the population. In 2007 the Ley de la memoria (memory law) was passed to rehabilitate the memory of the victims of Franco’s dictatorship. Does anything of this kind exist also for Holocaust victims?

Not exactly. In Spain the Jewish community has a very important tradition, that though still feels the burden of the violent expulsion ordered by Queen Isabel I of Castile in 1492. Spanish Jews were also persecuted as a part of the “Enemy” set out by Franco, which in the General’s opinion was made of Communists, Masons and Jews. When Spain became democratic in 1978, many Jews went back to the Synagogues and the places from where they had been excpelled. Today there is a very important Jewish community based in Toledo and Madrid, and this community holds the commemorations on Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

In general, how is Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrated in Spain? Who organizes the events and to whom are they addressed?

In Spain there is a cultural centre of the State of Israel - Sefarad-Israel, based in Madrid – which holds the celebrations. For example, last year the UNESCO invited people to dedicate HRD to the memory of the rescuers, and a three-day meeting was held at Casa de la America to make citizens aware of the rescue of the (mostly Sephardic) Jews who tried to escape through France and the Pyrenees. Men, women and children tried to reach Spain, since Franco’s government had recognized citizenship to the Sephardic Jews. These meetings met with a great emotional participation of the Spanish people. For example, I remember the tale of a Jewish woman who managed to cross the Pyrenees during her childhood thanks to the help of the mountain dwellers, who made it possible for the Jews to cross the frontier without being stopped by the Spanish carabinieri drawn up at the border. 

How is the relationship between Franco and the Holocaust perceived in Spain? 
Above all during the last year of Second World War, between 1944 and 1945, Franco realized that Nazi Germany and fascist Italy would lose the war – Italy was already in dire straights since 1943, with the creation of the Republic of Salò, completely under German control. The General thus decided to pass the law according to which all Sephardic Jews could demand the Spanish nationality. In an interview which was also published by the New York Times under the title “Don Quijote against Hitler”, the journalist reported about 160,000 Jews rescued by Franco that way.. but it was a falsification, because the Jews who managed to get to safety that way owe their lives not to the General, but rather to those mountain dwellers who helped them with their “senseless goodness”. 

How is the debate on the Holocaust welcome in Spain? Is it deeply felt by the population?

Unfortunately there is still a lot to do to improve participation. In Spain this debate is always accompanied by discussions about current events and the Mid-Eastern issue. The trend is thus to link Holocaust remembrance to a criticism about the present times and the situation of the Palestinians, above all those in the Gaza Strip. 

Spain boasts different Righteous people, above all among  diplomats. Are such figures as Bernardo Rolland de Miota, Sebastiano de Romero and Angel Sanz Briz known in Spain?

Unfortunately they are little known. I am doing a lot of work to improve the situation. The Spanish way to remember the Holocaust is flawed in that too often, institutions and the very citisenship remember more the terror of what happened than the good gestures, that instead were crucial. This is why in San Sebastian, European capital of culture in 2016, we are trying to carry out a project based on the positive examples. The memory of this “senseless goodness” can be very important for civil society and above all for the young people, and I thus hope it is spread in the schools of the Basque region, Spain and the rest of Europe.

28 January 2014

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Remember the past in order to build a future

The International Committee of the Armenian Righteous. Memory is the Future was founded by Piero Kuciukian in order to commemorate those who went against the genocide of 1915. The title emphasises the function of the memory, which is not a nostalgic look back in history, but a a clear sense of the past to build a future without making old mistakes.
The memory has many solutions and presents conflicting results, either positive or negative depending on how it is treated. Reflections on the previous events help us to understand the present, which means to search for the coordinates that allow us to interpret new situations with awareness of the dangers or opportunities that are triggered by certain mechanisms such as cultural, social and individual. The experience of the genocides of the twentieth century, the phenomenon of totalitarianism, resulted in the devastating world war, the balance of power during the Cold War, provide very precise indications on the geopolitical hegemony and humanitarian frifts to be avoided, while the example of the Righteous, their varied efforts on behalf of the persecuted, the demand for freedom, independence of thought and the instance of the defense of human dignity, are to be taken to avoid the pitfalls of arrogance, denial of truth, the rejection of diversity, closing the other, unilateral decision.

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