Commemoration to mark deportation of Jews held in Republic of North Macedonia

The 76th anniversary since the deportation of 7,144 Jews to the death camp Treblinka in 1943 was marked by numerous events and activities in Skopje, Bitola and Shtip on 10, 11 and 12 March 2019. The IHRA Chair, Ambassador Georges Santer, and IHRA Deputy Executive Secretary, Lennart Aldick, attended the commemoration in Skopje.

The events were attended by the President of the Jewish community Mrs. Berta Romano-Nikolik and other community members, high-level representatives of the Government and the Parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia – the Prime-Minister Zoran Zaev, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov, Vice-President of the Parliament Mrs. Frosina Tashevska-Remenski – foreign delegations and guests, among them the IHRA delegation, an Israeli delegation led by the Minister of Environmental Protection, Zeev Elkin, a delegation from the World Jewish Congress led by the Vice-President Robert Singer, IHRA Delegate, Paul Hagoul (representing the Head of the Greek Delegation to the IHRA), academics, students and pupils, members of the diplomatic core, civil society organizations, and media representatives.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nikola Dimitrov, spoke on behalf of the Government of North Macedonia at the ceremony at the Monopol Tobacco factory. He underlined the duty not to forget what had happened and never to let such a tragedy be repeated and the constant need to be alert to and fight against denial and distortion of the Holocaust, antisemitism, discrimination, and violations of human rights. He underlined the firm commitment of the Government to strengthen its engagement in all areas related to the Holocaust.

The IHRA chair, Ambassador Georges Santer noted his appreciation for the attention given to remembrance in the country, the maintenance of the memorial site and the focus on education. He commended North Macedonia on reaching out to neighbouring states, stressing that in times of rising antisemitism the Holocaust is an issue of contemporary political importance.

During the day the permanent exhibition of the Holocaust Memorial Center was officially opened by the Prime-Minister Mr. Zoran Zaev. Prime Minister Zaev said "Today as we are commemorating 76th years since the deportations to the Nazi death camps, we are saying that this act will be remembered forever and remembering the victims will remain our commitment forever. But, today we must also think about the fact that antisemitism in the world has not been defeated. We must combat antisemitism with the power of democracy in each country. We must defeat hate, before hate defeats democracy. The Republic of North Macedonia is home to all its citizens, without exception. Its history belongs to all its citizens; their future belongs to the Republic of North Macedonia."

Mrs. B. Romano-Nikolik, the Israeli Minister Z. Elkin, the Vice-President of the WJC Mr. R. Singer, member of the American Jewish Committee Rabbi Baker and the director of the Holocaust Memorial Center G. Sadikarijo also addressed the audiencet and a special message from the Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was read. The new, permanent exhibition focuses on the history, tradition, and culture of the Jews living on the Balkans and, in particularly, about the murder of the Jews from the Republic of North Macedonia.

On 11 March a commemorative concert was held at the Memorial Holocaust Memorial Center and at the Institute for spiritual and cultural heritage of the Albanians in Skopje a new Holocaust Education and Research Department was opened.

The commemorative events in Bitola were held on 10 March and the main theme was “Fighters - Heroes & Saviors - Righteous among the Nations”. Activities also included an official reception by the Mayor of Bitola, a March of the Living the from the Monument to the Deported Jews to the Railway Station, a visit to the Sundial sculpture of Matty Grunberg at the Jewish Cemetery, and a Illumination performance in Magnolia Square for the murdered Jews. The commemorative events in Shtip were held on 12 March and included a March of the Living, a reception by the Mayor of Shtip, and a visit to the Jewish Cemetery.

Finally, on 14 March in the Italian Embassy in Skopje and its Ambassador Carlo Romeo, the Jewish Community and the Holocaust Memorial Center jointly organized a special event entitled ”Memoria”. The event consisted of a presentation by Prof. M. Pezzetti (Museo della Shoah di Roma, Director): “Solo il dovere, oltre il dovere: the role of the Italian Diplomacy face to the Shoah. The cases of Skopje, Bitola and Thessaloniki”, and a screening of the documentary “Memoria” (1997), directed by R. Gabbai, based on the testimony of Italian survivors of Auschwitz.

During their stay, the high-level foreign delegations, including the IHRA delegation, held separate meetings with Prime-Minister Z. Zaev and Minister for Foreign Affairs, N. Dimitrov.

IHRA Chair, Ambassador Georges Santer. Credit: Oliver Acev