Europe gears up to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2008

By staff writers
22 Jan 2008

Organisers of events to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday 27 January 2008 say that a large number of civic and faith groups across Europe are due to take part, including British Muslims.

The day of remembrance was initiated by the European Parliament in 2000 and further supported by a declaration of the United Nations in 2005.

Churches in Europe have been involved from the start through a variety of ecumenical and inter-religious bodies, as well as civil society organisations.

In Britain the memorial day had been a focus of controversy over Muslim participation following a boycott by the Muslim Council of Britain - which has now been ended. The concern had been about not negating the significance of other acts of genocide while specifically remembering the Nazi one.

In 2007, European Commissioner for Culture and Youth Jan Figel spoke about the need for the younger generations in Europe to learn more about the Shoah and its implications.

This year, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering is scheduled to address parliamentarians, diplomats, civic and religious leaders at the main Memorial event in Brussels, one of the EU centres.

However the day is unlikely to stay entirely controversy free. A network calling itself European Coalition for Israel has been established by church groups with substantially pro-Zionist leanings, and has set up an official-looking website with a dot EU address to influence Christian participation.

Mainstream religious and civic leaders have sought to distance Holocaust Memorial from arguments about the current politics of the Middle East, while stressing the unique horror of the Nazi holocaust and the need to rigorously combat anti-Semitism and threats to Jewish people.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from different parts of Europe will make joint statements and symbolic actions on 27 January to symbolise a shared commitment to ending violence and hatred.

European church leaders have expressed concern about recent attacks on Jews and Jewish cemeteries, as well as prejudice and abuse against Muslims, gypsies, homosexuals and other minority groups.

They say that prejudice and xenophobia must be tackled at grassroots level, as well as through national and international political mechanisms.

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