Holocaust: Darkest period in world history
    Remembrance in light of modern global threats

    ANALYTICS  27 January 2023 - 09:00

    Vafa Ismayilova

    January 27 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day – the international day for the remembrance of six million Jews affected by the Holocaust under the Nazi persecution and those affected by the more recent genocides that followed in different parts of the world. To ensure that past tragedies do not reoccur, the international community must work together to prioritise humanitarian principles in order to prevent future tragedies from endangering global peace and security.

    Back to the history

    The Holocaust (1933–1945) was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators. The Holocaust era began in January 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. It ended in May 1945, when the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. 

    The Holocaust was a German initiative that took place throughout German- and Axis-controlled Europe. It affected nearly all of Europe’s Jewish population, which in 1933 numbered 9 million people. By the end of the war, six million Jews and millions of other victims were dead.

    The Nazi policy of mass extermination of groups considered outside the "master race" is remembered as one of the darkest periods in world history. Anti-Semitism was the most extreme example of that during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany. Nearly four million Jews were murdered in concentration camps. The majority of the remaining victims were killed in "death marches". Prisoners were forced to march long distances in the bitter cold, with little or no food, water, or rest. Those who could not keep up were shot. The largest death marches took place in the winter of 1944-1945.

    During World War II, the German occupation authorities concentrated urban and sometimes regional Jewish populations in ghettos, where they were kept forcibly segregated from others. Ghettos were often enclosed districts that isolated Jews by separating Jewish communities from the non-Jewish population and from other Jewish communities. The Germans established at least 1,143 ghettos in the occupied eastern European territories. At the end of the war, approximately six million Jews, or two-thirds of the Jews who lived in Europe prior to WWII, perished in the Holocaust.

    In the process leading up to the Holocaust, discriminatory policies, violence and massacres took place in stages. Many laws that took away the civil rights of Jews, the most well-known of which are the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, were enacted before the outbreak of WWII. In the process, Jews were removed from critical posts, forced to live in ghettos, and their property was confiscated.

    The Holocaust or the mass murder of Jews in concentration camps was the result of a decade of racist policies that became increasingly violent. Those who survived the perilous journeys to concentration camps were subjected to forced labour, medical experiments, or systematically murdered in gas chambers at Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Auschwitz I, Ravensbrück, Lublin/Majdanek. 

    When Holocaust survivors tried to return home from the camps or places of refuge, they often found that their homes had been looted or seized by others. Many Jewish survivors were afraid to return to their former homes because of the continuing impact of anti-Semitism in some parts of Europe and because of the trauma they had experienced. Those who returned home were concerned about their own safety.

    Many of the survivors were forced to relocate to refugee camps established in Western Europe near former concentration camps. They waited in these camps to be accepted into countries such as the United States, South Africa, and Palestine. For a time, most countries maintained their old immigration policies, which severely limited the number of refugees who could be accepted. Many Jews immigrated to Israel after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

    Genocide was not defined as a legal concept until 1948, and there was no legal framework in place to address the mass murder of communities. It also became the agenda after the establishment of the United Nations (UN) to describe the Nazi mass murders. The UN General Assembly approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, influenced by the Nuremberg trials of war criminals, which states that genocide is a crime under international law, and those who commit and incite this crime should be punished.

    Anti-Semitism in Armenia

    Despite the fact that history has experienced such a unique phenomenon as the Holocaust, it is still alarming that discriminatory ideologies such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism, hateful statements and the spread of crimes on ethnic grounds are still widespread. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and all forms of discrimination are crimes against humanity.

    In 2022, a Jewish diplomat noted in a Holocaust remembrance message that anti-Semitism can come in many different forms.

    “It can originate from individuals, religious leaders, societies or governments, and even manifest itself in places where Jews do not live. This old hatred, which should have disappeared..., is ever increasing with the violent acts it brings with it, let alone the fact that it has survived,” she said.

    It is worth looking at the anti-Semitic situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan which passed through the 44-day war in 2020 that resulted in the latter’s victory.  If to get back to the early 1990s, we can witness that Armenia incited the Karabakh conflict, hatred, bloodshed, and suffering in Azerbaijan.

    Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were forced to flee their pillaged homes in the late 1980s. They frequently travelled to Azerbaijan barefoot, through mountain passes, carrying children in their arms. In Karabakh, Armenians also expelled their Azerbaijanis who had lived there for centuries, declaring that this land belonged to Armenia and that everyone else had no right to be there.

    The country that glorifies Nazi collaborators (Garegin Nzhdeh, Drastamat Kanayan) as national heroes have the highest level of anti-Semitism in Europe.

    According to a 2014 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) poll, approximately 58 per cent of Armenians are subjected to anti-Semitism and other prejudices. According to the poll, Armenia is the second-most anti-Semitic country in Europe and the third-most anti-Semitic country in the world, after the Middle East and North Africa. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre, 32 per cent of the Armenian population does not want Jews in their neighbourhood.

    As Israel is one of the countries from which Azerbaijan purchased modern weapons to liberate its territories from Armenian occupation, it is possible that the situation only worsened after the Second Karabakh War.

    The Israeli Ministry of Diaspora's 2020 annual report also confirms that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Armenia. The most visible examples are vandalism, insults directed at Jews, and the desecration of Holocaust memorials and monuments by Armenians.

    Azerbaijan's tolerant environment

    Contrary to Armenia, Azerbaijan’s tolerant environment has donated to cultural diversity in the country. This is one of the major factors that ensure the stable and comfortable coexistence of other nations, including Jews in Azerbaijan. 

    A Germany-based Jewish Rabbi has recently described Azerbaijan as a “model of living together”.

    “Rabbi Avichai Apel of Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany praised Azerbaijan for warmly embracing the Jews and maintaining brotherly relations without any anti-Semitic incidents, called Azerbaijan ‘a model of living together’,” Azerbaijan’s newly-appointed ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov tweeted on January 25.

    For decades, the residents of the only all-Jewish village outside Israel and the United States — “Qirmizi Qasaba” ("Red Town") in Azerbaijan's Guba district have been prosperous and pragmatic, with a foot in at least three worlds.

    Asked by a Caliber.Az correspondent why the Holocaust Remembrance Day is important not only for the Jewish but for the whole world, Deputy Chairman of the Baku Community of European Jews Evgeny Brenneisen said: “This is a tragedy not only for the Jewish people but also for all progressive humanity. The Jewish principle of the approach to all events is to learn lessons and not repeat mistakes in the future. What happened to the Jews in the 30s and 40s can happen to any nation. That's why Holocaust Remembrance Day is so important for the whole world, not just for us Jews. The Khojaly genocide committed against Azerbaijanis by Armenian nationalists in the late 20th century can be cited as a glaring example of ethnic cleansing in the modern age.” 

    He said that the Khojaly genocide committed against Azerbaijanis by Armenian nationalists in the late 20th century can be cited as a glaring example of ethnic cleansing in the modern age. 

    Khojaly genocide

    Azerbaijan understands the anguish of the Holocaust better than others because we have a similar tragedy in our history, the Khojaly genocide. It is very symbolic that these two tragedies, which are among the most heinous crimes against humanity are so similar.

    It is considered one of the gravest crimes against humanity. Khojaly does not differ from the horrific tragedies of the Holocaust, Katyn, Srebrenica, Lidice, Oradour-sur-Glane, Songmy and Rwanda, which are etched on the minds of people forever. These atrocities went down in the history of wars as genocides of civilians which shook the world.

    Official figures prove that 613 people were killed, including 106 women, 63 children and 70 elderly, as a result of the genocidal act in Khojaly on February 26, 1992.

    Thus, when commemorating the victims of the Holocaust today, it is very important to remember that the Holocaust did not happen at once and that it was based on the anti-Semitism and hatred that the Nazi regime propagandised and was widespread in society. It is noteworthy that this trend can now be observed in Armenia after the 2020 war. 

    Raising awareness about the Holocaust, one of the biggest massacres in human history, and understanding the consequences of uncontrollable hatred and collective silence are also important in terms of preventing current human rights violations, massacres and hate attacks. In this context, it is believed that states should prioritise education and training to raise societal awareness of the issue, as well as work to establish an education system to combat and prevent forms of discrimination. Furthermore, states should enact anti-discrimination legislation within the framework of international human rights law and take steps to effectively implement the legislation.


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