Holocaust Memorial Centre opens in Skopje
Over 7,000 Jews from Macedonia died at Treblinka. A new facility provides powerful evidence of the need for tolerance.
By Misko Taleski for Southeast European Times in Skopje –25/03/11
Top officials attended the opening ceremony for the Holocaust Memorial Centre. [SETimes/Tomislav Georgiev]
The recently-opened Holocaust Memorial Centre in Skopje is an imposing structure, located in what was once a Jewish neighbourhood. It is the fourth such memorial worldwide dedicated to Holocaust victims, after Jerusalem, Berlin and Washington.
In March 1943, the Bulgarian army and police forced Jews in Skopje, Bitola and Stip into a camp and then deported them to Treblinka. Bulgaria, a Nazi ally, had signed a document to destroy the Jews under its rule. Around 98% of the Jewish population in Macedonia was eliminated.
According to Ljiljana Mizrahi, president of the Jewish Macedonia Holocaust Fund, in-depth research into the fate of the Holocaust victims begain in 2001. Not a single victim survived, she told SETimes.
"Let this ten-year project in which all citizens of Macedonia are a part become a pillar of coexistence, indicator of values and a reminder that final solutions do not exist. The Memorial Centre … is a trust for future generations to remember and never forget," Mizrahi said.
In comments to SETimes, Macedonian President Gjeorge Ivanov said the Holocaust is a tragedy for all humanity, perpetrated by those who had renounced humanity.
"Can somebody deny others the right to exist? That is an expression of fear and deep intolerance towards others who are different. Today, there are still some who negate Israel's right to exist as a state," said Ivanov.
Maksud Ali is a former Executive Board member of the Macedonia Holocaust Memorial Fund. A member of the Turkish ethnic community in Macedonia, he said the centre and its museum are important for promoting diversity and tolerance.
"If my ancestors accepted the Jewish people 500 years ago with all their ethnic and religious characteristics, modern-day Turkey will unquestionably do the same," Ali told SETimes. "This event [the opening of the Holocaust Museum] can only positively affect inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia."
The message sent by the memorial transcends Macedonia's borders, Turkey's Honorary General Consul to Macedonia Omer Suleiman told SETimes.
"Macedonia's gesture by opening the museum also carries an important message of respect and unity of all nationalities and peoples in the region and beyond," he said.
The March 10th opening ceremony for the museum began with officials bringing in three urns that contain the ashes of 7,144 Macedonian Jews slain at Treblinka. Macedonia's top leaders, its diplomatic corps, and the presidents of Albania and Montenegro — Bamir Topi and Filip Vujanovic — were on hand for the solemn occasion.
Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon also attended. He praised Macedonia for being among the first countries to finalise the return of Jewish property, and he spoke of challenges ahead.
"A fanatical ideology cannot be stopped by indifference," he said. "The West must learn the lessons of the past and show decisiveness regarding contemporary challenges."
Samuel Sadikario, a leading Jewish intellectual in Macedonia who attended the ceremony, told SETimes that the world must remain on guard against the threat of genocide.
"One of the goals is not to let such an evil deed as the Holocaust happen again, though I am worried today there are sophisticated attempts to repeat it against other people. Macedonia-Israel political relations are excellent thus far, and I hope this [positive event] will encourage the economic relations which are a bit sidetracked," said Sadikario, a recipient of Macedonia's "Mother Teresa" state award.