Far-right Vienna ball sparks outrage on Holocaust Day
Nazi death camp survivors marked Holocaust Remembrance Day in Poland on Friday, while in Austria guests at a far-right ball were accused of “dancing on Auschwitz graves”.
Survivors joined Israeli and Polish officials at ceremonies for the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau at the site of the former camp where the Nazis killed more than a million people, mostly European Jews.
“This place remains a wound on the soul of Europe and the world,” Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski said.
Participants also mourned the passing of Kazmierz Smolen, an Auschwitz survivor who after World War II helped found a Polish state-run memorial and museum created at the site and served as its director from 1955 to 1990.
“He died in hospital today. We learned this sad news at the very moment that the ceremonies were under way,” museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.
On the eve of the memorial day, Turkey became the first Muslim country to air “Shoah”, an epic 1985 French documentary on the Holocaust, nationwide.
Consisting largely of survivor interviews, “Shoah” — the Hebrew word for Holocaust — examines the killing of European Jews in Nazi death camps.
“This day of remembrance… reminds us of the importance of drawing the right lessons on combatting racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
The date was also chosen by Austrian right-wing student fraternities to hold their annual ball in Vienna, which was expected to be attended by several European far-right leaders, including French National Front head Marine Le Pen.
As many as 5,000 anti-fascist demonstrators gathered to protest the ball but the roughly 3,000 guests were able to enter the Hofburg palace, the Habsburg dynasty’s opulent former imperial residence, well away from the protests.
Protestors, some of them from other countries, most notably Germany, chanted “Nazis raus!” (“Nazis out!”) and held placards with photos of Holocaust victims and slogans reading “Don’t dance on my grave.”
Police, who numbered several hundred drawn in from several other regions of Austria, many in riot gear and with helicopters overhead, put the number of demonstrators at only 500, however.
The timing and venue have sparked outrage among those mourning Holocaust victims. The ball draws figures whose parties have in the past been accused of revisionist and anti-Semitic views.
“It is all the more regrettable and perfidious that today of all days, people will dance on the graves of Auschwitz,” Eva Glawischnig, head of Austria’s Green party, said at a Holocaust commemoration ceremony.
US President Barack Obama pledged to celebrate the resilience of Holocaust survivors and to stand strong against those who commit modern-day atrocities and against what he said was “the resurgence of anti-Semitism.”
“Together with the State of Israel, and all our friends around the world, we dedicate ourselves to giving meaning to those powerful words: ‘Never Forget. Never Again.’”