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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 21:45 GMT
Uncomfortable questions in Stockholm

German Neo-Nazis Neo-Nazi groups still propagate hate

By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason in Stockholm

The Holocaust conference in Stockholm of political leaders from nearly 50 countries has heard a warning not to forget the events of the Nazi era - and some uncomfortable questions from a prominent survivor of Nazi persecution.

At the forum, the politicians have rubbed shoulders a little uneasily with some of the remaining survivors of the Holocaust.

Walking around the conference centre, you feel a curious disconnection between the comfortable people sipping coffee and the horrors whose memory they are here to perpetuate.

Girl A victim of neo-Nazi violence had a swastika cut into her cheek

One man who inhabits both worlds is the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Elie Wiesel.

When I interviewed him amid the conference bustle, the intensity of all of his experiences was striking.

He looks you in the eye and at once the world of politics and its compromises seems petty.

As honorary chairman of the conference, Elie Wiesel put a series of unanswerable questions to the assembled politicians. They were 50-year-old questions but no less uncomfortable for that.

  • Why was it so easy for Adolf Hitler to impose his crazy ideology on an entire people ?
  • Why had the Allies made so many shameful compromises ?
  • Why had they not bombed the railways leading to the death camps ?
Annual event?

Mr Wiesel sprang a surprise by urging the Swedish Government to make the Stockholm Holocaust conference an annual event.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson - who called the conference - felt bound to respond that he was prepared to work to bring that about. Whether that counts as a cast-iron commitment remains to be seen.

But the moral pressure from the Holocaust can still exert a powerful effect. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder emphasised that it was impossible for anyone to close this chapter of German history once and for all.

That looked like a response to the fears voiced by some campaigners for financial compensation that the Stockholm Forum would be exploited to do just that - to draw a historical line under the Holocaust.

Elie Wiesel put it differently: "On the contrary. Without the historians and the witnesses, the compensation campaign of the last few years would never have got off the ground."

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See also:
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The long fight for Holocaust compensation
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High Court battle over Holocaust book

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