Holocaust Commemoration in Macedonia
March 11, 2013
Rabbi Andrew Baker
AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs
Psalmist teaches us that the span of a lifetime is “three score and
ten”—seventy years. We gather tonight to commemorate the deportations and
murder of the Jews of Macedonia that took place seventy years ago. A lifetime
has gone by. The eyewitnesses to these crimes—the perpetrators, the few
surviving victims, the by-standers—are dead or dying.
are those who have sought to deny the Holocaust or claim its numbers are
exaggerated. There are others who have sought to distort the facts in order to
shift the blame or exonerate the guilty. Despite the exhaustive, historical
documentation these deniers and revisionists will have an easier job with the
passage of a lifetime.
ourselves often with the best of motives may also contribute to some distortions.
We want to highlight the stories of bravery and rescue, of neighbors and
sometimes even strangers who risked their lives to shelter and protect Jews. We
designate them as “righteous among the nations” and applaud their heroism.
Their accounts do offer hope that even in the darkest of times some light can
still shine. But we should not lose sight of the fact that there were many,
many more by-standers and accomplices to the German murderers than there were
have gathered here tonight to remember. It is for us a sacred obligation. In
January 1943 three-quarters of those European Jews who would be murdered by the
Nazis were still alive. By the end of the year three-quarters were dead. The
Nazi killing machine rivaled its ability to make war, with a systematic,
mechanized operation that would reach to almost all corners of the continent.
And as we well-know it reached here.
burden of remembering this tragedy that occurred a lifetime ago falls
disproportionately upon the shoulders of Macedonia’s small Jewish community.
are fortunate that here in Macedonia there is now a permanent memorial and
museum to those victims. We can see their faces. We can imagine the hopes and
dreams they shared before the Nazi terror descended upon them. All who visit can
appreciate the rich and diverse Jewish culture that existed for centuries in
this corner of Europe and that animated their lives. In these ways, Macedonia
should serve as an example to other countries.
course we certainly thought that an essential lesson of the Holocaust would be
the elemental recognition that anti-Semitism can have lethal consequences and
an unshakable commitment to combat it. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still
very much with us. In far too many places we still see the old myths of
international Jewish political and economic conspiracies gaining currency at a
time of financial dislocation. We see the growing success of right-wing,
populist parties whose racism and xenophobia include anti-Semitic invective.
And now that highly-charged hate speech echoes from the halls of parliaments
across Europe. Those old themes are increasingly infused with new approaches
that seek to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel. And at this time no
one can ignore the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, a nation that has long
supported international terrorism and whose leaders deny the Holocaust while
calling for the annihilation of the Jewish State.
Bulgarian gendarmes herded those 7200 Macedonian Jews to their deaths, no one
stood up to defend them and to prevent their deportation. The brave voices in
neighboring Bulgaria did not come soon enough, were not loud enough to help
here. We can rejoice in the rescue of those Jews, but it cannot be separated
from the tears that we must shed today.
this day of remembrance our faithfulness to those who perished will be measured
not only by our ability to recall their stories but by our resolve to prevent
such crimes from ever recurring. Ye’hi
zichronam l’vrachah. May their memory be a blessing.