Do politicians misuse even the tragedy of the Holocaust to gain popularity? And does anti-Semitism in Slovakia have a green light or not? These are some of the controversies which have surfaced after this year’s awarding of the titles Righteous among the Nations to 10 Slovakians.
Both issues were personified by Justice Minister Štefan Harabin, whose presence at the official party outraged several representatives of the Jewish community in Slovakia.
Last September, Harabin made anti-Semitic statements about an opposition MP, Daniel Lipšic from the Hungarian Coalition Party (KDH), in the Slovak parliament.
“You remind me of some Nazis who had Jewish ancestry and yet were able to kill innocent children, women, old people in concentration camps, just to prove their loyalty to fascism,” Harabin said to Lipšic on September 4 during a parliamentary session as well as asking “What is the difference between Goebbels and Lipšic?”
Harabin said that he was not anti-Semitic and that he had nothing to be ashamed of. His said his deeds speak for themselves. Harabin added that under his leadership the Justice Ministry developed an amendment to the Criminal Code amendment which toughened up the punishment for denying the Holocaust. Parliament passed it last November.
It was Daniel Lipšic who proposed some time ago that denying the Holocaust should not be a crime, and thus not punished, said Harabin. He told The Slovak Spectator that he just wanted to reproach Lipšic for his intention to remove denying of the Holocaust from the Criminal Code.
“If someone wants to ascribe anti-Semitism to me, this is not the correct address,” Harabin said.
“Maybe I mended a watch with a hammer.”
He said that during his ministerial position, victims of the Holocaust were financially compensated, people who had waited for many years.
“I said that it was an absolute priority to compensate these people,” Harabin told The Slovak Spectator.
He added that if compensation had not been arranged soon, many of these victims might not live long enough to see it.
Asked by The Slovak Spectator, why was it necessary to remind Lipšic of his Jewish roots, Harabin answered:
“Well, this is not normal that a person whose grandmother was in a concentration camp wants to remove denying the Holocaust from the Criminal Code.”
“I am a Russian orthodox and I would not dish dirt on the Russian Orthodox,” Harabin added.
Professor Juraj Stern, chairman of the NGO watchdog Slovak Foreign Policy Association, and the historian Ivan Kamenec both expressed their dissatisfaction with Harabin having attended the award ceremony.
Kamenec told The Slovak Spectator that awarding the titles of Righteous among the Nations to 10 Slovaks was a more than positive phenomenon. This title is definitely deserved by those who received it.
“It annoys me that politicians have their axes to grind at this event,” Kamenec commented to The Slovak Spectator. “For example, the Justice Minister; he had made anti-Semitic statements, but he came to the awards’ reception.”
Isaac Herzog, Minister of the Diaspora, Society, and Fight against Anti-Semitism, who conferred the titles Righteous among the Nations in the name of the Israeli government, stressed in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that “the tragedy of the Jews from Slovakia is an example of the tragedies of Jews from throughout the whole of Europe”.
He added that there are 300,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel today and that they tell stories that are unbelievable. Most of them are now older than eighty.
“This is the generation which is slowly and naturally disappearing and we must preserve their lesson for the next generations.”
Herzog did not want to comment on Harabin’s statements about Lipšic.
“I am unaware of the circumstances of this issue,” Herzog said, “but anti-Semitic undertones and overtones are unacceptable in any form and manner”, maintained Herzog for the Slovak Spectator.
Herzog further appreciated some steps taken by the Slovak government. He mentioned that in the Western-Slovak town of Sereď, in a site where the biggest reception camp of Jews during World War II was set, a museum will be opened. From that site, Slovak Jews were transported to death camps, especially to Auschwitz and Sobibor.
“We believe that the Sereď site should be turned into a museum which will teach the lessons of the Holocaust here in Slovakia and will bring usefulness for the entire world and for researchers,” said Herzog. “Of course Yad Vashem, our national authority for commemoration of the Holocaust will cooperate with your government and with the Jewish museum here to move the project forward.”
In connection with the question of whether denying Holocaust should be a crime or not, Herzog just said that there are international treaties which say that denying the Holocaust is a crime. And Slovakia is a partner to such treaties.
“The basic thing is that denying the Holocaust is a form of anti-Semitism and racism of the worst kind and moreover the international community rejects it,” Herzog told The Slovak Spectator.