Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Last night at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official monument to the martyrs in Jerusalem, six torches were lit in memory of the six millions Jews who were slaughtered.
In Poland today, thousands of Jewish youths will retrace the notorious death march between Auschwitz and Birkenau, where Jews were led, in the words of partisan leader Abba Kovner, "like sheep to the slaughter".
This "March of the Living" is a symbolic act of willful defiance — incontrovertible proof that Hitler’s final solution to the Jewish problem failed.
Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead, will be recited across the globe today as the names of those who perished are read out. Across Israel at 10:00am, a two-minute siren will wail as the Jewish nation screeches to a complete standstill (5:00pm AEST time) to remember those who perished for one simple reason: because they were Jews.
In Washington, President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s ceremony at the rotunda of the US capitol.
And yet in Geneva yesterday, a United Nations-sponsored anti-racism conference offered the podium to a megalomaniac who has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" and who so adamantly denies the fact of the genocide against the Jews that he held a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran in 2006.
Remarkably, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed into the bosom of Europe at a conference intended to deal with racism. It’s a perverse irony at best; an utter abomination at worst. And all this on April 20 — the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday.
Unsurprisingly, the tyrant of Tehran launched his invective at the Jewish state, accusing it of being the "racist perpetrators of genocide". The bulk of the Arab delegates applauded. The 23 representatives of the European Union walked out. On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the United Nations, which has long been a bastion for Israel-bashing, hosted a dyed-in-the-wool Holocaust denier. Ahmadinejad didn’t refer to the Holocaust by name, but left little doubt of his support for a second Holocaust against "the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine".
Mercifully, sane-minded western nations, including Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Israel, Italy, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Holland boycotted the conference, unveiling it as a sham under the guise of the UN.
While officials from Jerusalem to Washington to Canberra and beyond will bow their heads today to remember the apogee of evil, in Geneva officials from dozens of countries — mostly from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which represents 56 countries — raised their heads and applauded a tyrant who describes the Holocaust as a "myth".
One group of people will memorialise the Holocaust and reaffirm the pledge of "never again" while the other gave succour to a man whose rhetoric suggests he intends to make it happen again.
And for those who think Australia is immune from such bile, witness our very own poster boy of Holocaust revisionism, Frederick Toben, a former teacher from Adelaide who travelled to Tehran in 2006 to attend Ahmadinejad’s "conference".
But Toben may have spent Holocaust Remembrance Day contemplating his conviction of criminal contempt in the Federal Court in South Australia last week.
Justice Bruce Lander found Toben guilty last Thursday of 24 counts of "deliberate and calculated disobedience" of a 2002 court order to remove from his notorious Adelaide Institute website "material calculated to offend, insult or humiliate or intimidate people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin".
It was the latest chapter in a legal wrangle that dates back to 1996, when Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, first lodged a complaint against the 64-year-old German-born revisionist with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.
Toben now faces a possible third term in jail. Late last year he was incarcerated for 50 days in London’s Wandsworth Prison as German prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to extradite him on a European Union warrant. In 1999, he spent seven months in prison in Germany for inciting racism.
After the verdict was handed down last week, Toben told media: "If you believe in something and you want to have that freedom to express your opinions then you should be prepared for sacrifices. Anyone who believes in the Holocaust has blood on their hands …"
Toben will have to wait until 28 April to find out his punishment — the same day a little-known Aboriginal activist will be honoured for his protest against the Nazis in 1938.
William Cooper, an elder of the Yorta Yorta people, led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consul in Melbourne on 6 December 1938 — just weeks after the Kristallnacht pogrom in Germany — to protest the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Half a world away from Nazi-occupied Europe, at a time when most of the civilised world had turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by Hitler’s regime, a lone Aboriginal elder raised his voice in protest.
For the record, he was denied entry to the consulate. But he has not been forgotten by history. Next week William Cooper will be honoured in Israel when 70 trees are planted in his memory in the Martyrs’ Forest in Jerusalem. Members of his extended family are flying there to attend the ceremony.
William Cooper had the courage to protest a crime against humanity, even though it fell on deaf ears; Fredrick Toben believes he has the courage to defend free speech and is willing to go to prison to protect that right. Australia, thankfully, had the courage to boycott this week’s UN-backed conference.
The oft-quoted words of philosopher George Santayana spring to mind, once again: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Toben is trying to rewrite the past; Ahmadinejad wants to repeat it.
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