On Int’l Holocaust Memorial Day, Czech politicians condemn misuse of Yellow Star by anti-vaxxers

Miloš Vystrčil, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

Wednesday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet forces in 1945. Due to the coronavirus, in lieu of traditional gatherings at Czech sites of remembrance, a memorial event at the parliament was broadcast live this morning, as will be a Czech-Israeli meeting and a gala concert at Prague’s Spanish Synagogue in the evening.

The spectre of the coronavirus, which has claimed so many lives, hung heavy in the air in a ceremonial chamber of the Senate; the echoing words of those honouring the memory of victims of the Holocaust, testimony to the extraordinary circumstances on the particular International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp,  photo: archive of Yad Vashem,  Public Domain

The memorial meeting in the Senate was organised by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims. Among the handful of speakers were Michaela Vidláková, who survived internment at Terezín, and Čeněk Růžička, chair of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust, whose parents were interned at Lety u Písek.

Both the Senate president Miloš Vystrčil and speaker of the lower house Radek Vondráček, in their addresses on Wednesday morning, paid tribute to the victims of genocide, condemned Holocaust deniers, rising anti-Semitism – and, notably, the recent misappropriation of the Yellow Star of David by Czechs protesting against the government’s vaccination effort.

Senator Vystrčil described the mid-January protest – in which many far-right extremists took part – as an outrageous expression of disrespect for Jews who had been forced to wear the yellow star. He also condemned Czech free speech law that allows for the glorification of the Nazi regime for profit.

“I firmly believe it is improper for anyone to do business trading in merchandise on which there are Nazi symbols. I find it outrageous that people demonstrating against vaccinations mark themselves a Yellow Star of David. It is an expression of the endless disrespect that people marked by that star experienced.”

In a similar vein, lamenting that the world has failed to learn from history, MP Vondráček warned anti-Semitism is growing in Europe and beyond in part due to conspiracy theories about Jews and coronavirus, with social networks full of unchecked hatred.

Radek Vondráček,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

“To the well-known triad of evil, which consists of the ultra-left, the far-right, Islamic radicalism, has been added conspiracy theories that arose in connection with Covid-19. Again, there is talk of an international Jewish conspiracy…

“Those who liken themselves to the Jews during the Holocaust so as to give their political agenda a semblance of urgency deserve harsh condemnation and the deepest contempt.”

According to a report in The Times of Israel newspaper, with many countries reeling from Covid-19 deaths, as in the Czech Republic, many memorials this year have been focusing on combatting the rise of Holocaust “denial” and anti-Semitism.

These issues are certain to be addressed during an online meeting between Czech and Israeli officials later on Wednesday that will include President Miloš Zeman and his counterpart Reuven Rivlin.