World Online/ Marking 60th anniversary of end of World War II/ Hidetoshi Sotooka: We must always remember the past
London Mayor Ken Livingstone, known for his blunt speech, is under fire for calling a Jewish reporter ``a concentration camp guard.’’ The reporter works for an evening newspaper with which Livingstone remains at odds. The derogatory term is synonymous to ``traitor’’ used to call Jewish people who worked for the Nazi regime.
In response to protests by Jewish organizations, British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged Livingstone to apologize. But the mayor defied criticism and told a news conference that he had no intention to do so.
Livingstone gave the following explanation to justify his position: The publisher of the newspaper had a pro-Nazi editorial line during the 1930s. Also recently, it is increasingly inclined to reject Islamic immigrants. A Jew who works for such a newspaper is like ``a concentration camp guard.’’ Even though he has repeatedly used the same expression during his 24-year political career, it never became an issue, the mayor said.
Watching the news conference, I thought that the mayor was forgetting an important thing: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Leafing through a British newspaper, I found myself staring at a strange-looking picture.
It showed young people standing next to each other holding unpainted wooden crosses with the names of cities and country around the world, including Dresden, Hiroshima, Vietnam and Baghdad.
The picture was taken on Feb. 13 at a memorial to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden in which more than 30,000 citizens were killed.
The bombing of Dresden by the United States and Britain was an indiscriminate attack that also killed innocent citizens. The idea took an extreme form as it was applied to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was passed on to the Vietnam War and more recently the Iraq war. The criticism directed at it is not completely incomprehensible.
But what struck me as strange is the fact that the people holding the crosses were neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazis who gathered for the occasion topped 5,000. One British newspaper described it the largest gathering ``since Hitler’s time.’’
``Why should we apologize for what happened 60 years ago?’’ More Germans are asking the question. A movement to offset their history of aggression with damage they suffered is spreading also in Germany. After 9/11, coupled with a growing fear against Islamic residents, the assertion of extreme rightists who want to regulate immigrants is quietly seeping through the solid foundation on which Europe sits. The 60th anniversary of the war’s end is a year in which victims become sensitive to such a mood whether they want to or not.
Ten years ago, I visited various places to interview Jewish people who survived the Holocaust. Postwar Germany has made an untiring effort to ``conquer the past.’’ Do you think Jews will some day come to forgive Germans, I asked them.
I cannot forget the words of a Jew I met in Jerusalem: ``No one can forgive. Only God can.’’
I thought I caught a glimpse of incurable wounds caused by the Holocaust.
I attended a lecture at the Jewish Museum in London on Jan. 27 that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
I was intrigued by a talk given by Helen Bamber, 80, and later visited her. Since she rushed to a concentration camp immediately after liberation at the age of 19, Bamber has been devoting her life to providing mental care to survivors of the Holocaust and people who underwent torture.
She said, ``I have just tried to listen and receive what they said, not to recoil, and I have tried to be the eyewitness who embrace the truth.’’ Bamber has spoken to 35,000 people who were subjected to such atrocities as rape and torture.
But forgiving is not easy. More than anything, it is painful because both the aggressors and victims have to once again squarely face the truth.
``Somebody can give forgiveness. But it is not enough,’’ Bamber said. ``How to prevent tragedy from happening again is the most important question. It is essential for both perpetrators and victims not to turn their eyes away from what has really happened. If you will deny, it will happen again in different forms.’’
At a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a speech: ``The past cannot be overcome. It is the past. But its traces and, above all, the lessons to be learned from it extend to the present. We have a special responsibility to engrave Germany’s past in our hearts.’’
We must always remember the past while looking to the future. Although the circumstances are different between Japan and Germany, I wish to take to heart those mature words.
The author head The Asahi Shimbun’s European general bureau in London.(IHT/Asahi: March 30,2005)
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