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Holocaust survivor hails ‘wonderful’ German anti-right protests

Eva Szepesi said Germany's 'wonderful constitution and democracy' deserved defending against forces seeking to undermine them
Eva Szepesi said Germany's 'wonderful constitution and democracy' deserved defending against forces seeking to undermine them - Copyright ${} ${image.metadata.node.creator}
Eva Szepesi said Germany's 'wonderful constitution and democracy' deserved defending against forces seeking to undermine them - Copyright ${} ${image.metadata.node.creator}
Deborah COLE

Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi on Wednesday welcomed mass German protests against the resurgent far right but said stronger action was crucial to stand up to rising anti-Semitism.

Szepesi, who was liberated from Auschwitz when she was 12, told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, his cabinet and MPs in a Bundestag ceremony that she was heartened by hundreds of thousands of Germans joining pro-democracy rallies.

“It is wonderful that so many people took to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate against right-wing extremism,” Szepesi, 91, told the chamber.

“However I wish these demonstrators would also loudly object to inhumane and anti-Semitic remarks from their acquaintances and at work,” she added, invoking a “responsibility” to confront hatred where it arises.

She said Germany’s “wonderful constitution and democracy” deserved defending against forces seeking to undermine them, without mentioning the far-right AfD party by name.

The AfD, which has soared in opinion polls since last summer to around 20 percent on the back of fears about economic decline and rising migration, had largely boycotted last year’s Holocaust Memorial Commemoration in parliament.

But the party’s leaders and MPs were in attendance for Szepesi’s speech and applauded with other lawmakers as she called on Germans to resist “remaining silent and looking away” in the face of extremism.

– ‘Worries me deeply’ –

A report this month by investigative outlet Correctiv revealed that AfD members had discussed the mass expulsion of immigrants and “non-assimilated citizens” at a November meeting with extremists.

The news sent shock waves across Germany, just months ahead of three key state elections in eastern Germany where AfD support is strongest, and touched off the mass demonstrations that are set to continue this week.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser compared the extremist meeting on foreigners with the 1942 Wannsee conference, where the Nazis plotted to exterminate European Jews.

Since 1996, Germany has officially marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day — the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation on January 27, 1945 — with a solemn ceremony at the Bundestag and commemorations across the country. 

The speeches in parliament were held later this year because the anniversary fell on a weekend.

Szepesi, born in Budapest to a Jewish family, was sent to the Nazi extermination camp at the age of 11 and was one of the few child prisoners to escape death in the gas chambers.

She said she had taken advice to lie about her age, telling guards she was 16, which had likely saved her life.

Prisoners who were deemed unfit to work were systematically murdered immediately on arrival, a fate that her mother and brother had met at the camp.

After the war, Szepesi and her husband, a fellow Holocaust survivor, settled in Germany due to Cold War upheaval in Hungary. 

She thanked Scholz and his government for their “solidarity” with Israel after the deadly Hamas attacks in October.

But she expressed alarm about a sharp rise in anti-Semitic crimes recorded in Germany since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out.

“It worries me deeply and I am sad to see what is happening on the streets — the readiness to use violence and the hatred of Jews,” she said.

A study last week by the Claims Conference, an organisation that seeks damages for Holocaust survivors, found that their numbers worldwide had dwindled to 245,000, with a median age of 86.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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