France pays homage to Holocaust victims at Auschwitz memorial

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French Prime Minister Jean Castex heads a special delegation to the Auschwitz Holocaust memorial in Poland on Thursday to mark the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp. The visit comes a week after the UN adopted a non-binding resolution to fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, especially on social media.

Castex will travel to the site with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot, as well as France's chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, the president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) Francis Kalifat, high school students and some survivors of the Shoah.

Nazi Germany built the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp near the town of Oswiecim after occupying Poland during World War II.

The site has become a symbol of the regime’s genocide of six million European Jews, one million of whom died at the camp between 1940 and 1945, along with more than 100,000 non-Jews.

The 27 January marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and other camps by Soviet soldiers in 1945.

On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron attended a memorial in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane to honour the memory of the 643 residents massacred by an Nazi SS unit on 10 June, 1944.

He presented the only survivor of the carnage, 96 year-old Robert Hébras, with the National Order of Merit, warning against forgetting history's atrocities.

Macron justified the visit by saying hate was increasing in France. "Racism and anti-Semitism are now being legitimised by a certain political discourse," he said in a veiled reference to the far-right.

The visit comes just four months ahead of presidential elections in France, for which Macron has not yet announced his official candidature.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said although reported acts of anti-Semitism in France in 2021 had dropped by 14 percent compared to 2019, he warned that "attacks against the Jewish community remain at a worrying level".

Focus on social media

Noting the rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, on 20 January, the UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution calling on all member states to fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, especially on social media.

The Israeli-proposed text was developed with the help of Germany and co-sponsored by several dozen of the 193 states that make up the United Nations.

The resolution "rejects and condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part," according to the text.

The text "commends" countries that preserve sites of former Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, execution sites and prisons during the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism and Covid

The rise in anti-Semitic acts on an international scale was also confirmed in a report released on Monday by the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It found an average of more than 10 anti-Semitic incidents occurred around the world every day in 2021, a 10-year high. Despite this, it was noted that "no Jew in the world has been murdered on anti-Semitic grounds" over that one year period, the report said.

Most of the anti-Semitic incidents were "vandalism and destruction, graffiti, and desecration of monuments, as well as propaganda," the report said.

"Incidents of physical and verbal violence accounted for less than a third of all anti-Semitic incidents."

Such episodes and attacks peaked during May, when Jewish and Muslim festivals led to clashes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and a war with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, according to the report.

In addition, many European countries lifted their pandemic lockdowns that month, which allowed anti-Semitism that spread online "to move around the public space again".

"Many demonstrations against the Covid vaccines and restrictions included Holocaust motifs, such as the yellow star, as well as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories accusing Jews as spreaders of the pandemic to control the world," the report indicated, expressing concern over the "trivialisation of the Holocaust".

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