Honorable Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to be here today. With your permission I will start in a manner typical for a minister of the Gospel, that is, with a verse from the Bible. In the book of Exodus we read the following words. And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. And a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph!
The old generations pass away and new generations come, time passes by and people forget the past. And just like it happened in the ancient days after the death of Joseph when a new king came to power and there was a new generation of people who didn’t know the history and the past, it can happen again today. What will be the attitude of today’s generations towards Anti-Semitism depends on our efforts to Learn from History.
In the beginning of this year, for a second time in a row, Protestant churches in Bulgaria commemorated the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27. In Bulgaria, the campaign was conducted under the slogan “Remember so it does not happen again”. The campaign aimed against the rising level of anti-Semitism among young people in Bulgaria and worked to engage the Protestant churches in educating the present generations about the tragic events of the Holocaust. The objective of the campaign was to inform Bulgarian Protestant churches and ministries about this important date and to equip Christian leaders with the resources needed to conduct a special commemoration service.
For this purpose we created a website, containing extensive information in the form of sermons, teachings, historical documents, analyses, brochures, photos, posters and video films which could be used for the special commemoration service on the Holocaust Remembrance Day. We also sent by mail to pastors and church leaders over five hundred color brochures, sermons and teaching materials. For a short time the website dedicated to the campaign was visited by many people. However, there are some troubling facts too. When the website address was posted in several youth online forums, within a few hours it received several hundred responses, about 80 % of which were negative. We discovered that young people do not know much about the Holocaust. This shows that anti-Semitism, which is not typical of the older generations in Bulgaria, has spread its poison among Bulgaria’s younger generations. Right now there is no ground for anti-Semitism in Bulgaria but the level of anti-Semitism among young people is higher than ever.
On the other hand, the positive reactions to the website’s contents were extremely encouraging and testify to the powerful influence a website can have on young people who do not know about the Holocaust. We received letters from young people who said that they had heard something about the destruction of six million Jews during World War 2 in the past but had never seen photographs or watched documentary films about that and they were shocked. Let me read to you part of a letter sent to us by a 15-year-old girl from the city of Varna:
Every time I look at photos from the Holocaust, I am horrified. I know that it happened, I see the photos, but I cannot possibly imagine such a thing… When I saw the picture of one of those children of whom almost nothing was left, I started crying. How is it possible for a human being to do this to another human being? They did not like the Jews – ok, they decided to kill them – this is a cruel iniquity, but to torture a child in that way… I tried to go through all the materials on the website, but I just wasn’t capable of doing that. I saw the photos and couldn’t take it any more. I had to turn off the computer screen. I know that many people died. This cannot be changed. We can only live as we remember and respect their memory. I know that the best way to do that is to know the whole truth and to remember.”
Two hundred and sixteen Protestant churches in Bulgaria registered to participate in the campaign, commemorating the Holocaust Remembrance Day with a special event. This means that about 25 % of all Protestant churches in the country participated. Special educational events about the Holocaust directed towards students or teachers were organized in different places, either by the initiative of individual Christians, who work in public schools, or as collective initiatives of local churches.
Today seventy years after Kristallnacht we are talking about the faith and values of Europe because history must be preserved and passed on to the next generations. If it is not preserved correctly or passed on, it will disappear and the generations to come will lose something important for their development. In other words, the past is very important and without learning from it we will never get things right in the future.
I don’t think anyone who witnessed the Holocaust ever imagined that some day there would be people who would doubt its existence. That some day there would be a developing trend to forget truth and history. However, the facts show that prejudices keep spreading and anti-Semitism is creeping back. That is why today there is a growing need for educational initiatives, for actions and campaigns, which keep telling the younger generations; do not forget what happened! remember so it doesn’t happen again.
This year Bulgaria marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the salvation of the Bulgarian Jews. Sixty-five years ago during the Holocaust the lives of forty nine thousand Bulgarian Jews were preserved in Bulgaria. Denmark and Bulgaria are the only countries in Europe who saved their Jews. Ten days from now during the last week of November 2008 Songs of Life International Festival – an initiative of several Bulgarian evangelical Christians – will be held in Bulgaria and Israel. The Festival commemorates the rescuing of all the Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust. Choirs from around the world and philharmonic orchestras from Bulgaria and Israel will join together and present four concerts in the cities of Sofia and Plovdiv in Bulgaria and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel.On November 23, thousands of evangelical Christians will go out in the streets of the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, and the second largest city, Plovdiv, to help the Bulgarian Jewish community with the distribution of forty-nine thousand flowers, which will be presented to the people of Bulgaria. The people in the streets will receive a flower and a card like the one I am holding in my hand reading: Please, accept this flower – one of the forty-nine thousand, given out today in Bulgaria as a symbol of gratitude towards you – the descendants of that honorable generation of Bulgarians, who made their stand against evil and chose to save lives. This will be a unique event – the first of this kind in our country.
Today we can rightfully be proud of what that Bulgarian generation did, having not feared to speak out and make a stand against anti-Semitism. However, today is a new day and it is now time for us to speak out and act. To remain silent will result in hatred growing again! We can all speak out, educate, and join efforts in order to protect today’s generations. the future will be whatever we make it and then we will have to live it! At the end of the war, the Nazis attempted to hide the traces of their crimes and demolished the concentration camps and the crematoria. They knew what they had done, but tried to hide the truth! there are forces who do not want people to know what happened! This is why we should be strongly committed to the truth – this is the time to act and speak out! Let me conclude by quoting Psalm 78, which tells us to speak about history to the generations to come.
„The things which we have heard and know
and our fathers have told us
we will not hide from our children.
We will make them clear to the coming generations. So that the generation to come might know, even the children that should be born. Who will arise and tell them to their children!
Mister Chair thank you for the opportunity to address the conference today, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind attention.