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02. February 2022- 1. Adar I 5782

Margot Friedlander in the European Parliament: "Be people!"

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Friedlander spoke about her time in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and the liberation in 1945 Photo: Michael Thaidigsmann

Applause from the delegates for Margot Friedlander after her speech Photo: Michael Thaidigsmann

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For half an hour, the 100-year-old spoke to the MEPs Photo: Michael Thaidigsmann

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Speaker of Parliament Roberta Metsola with Margot Friedlander Photo by Michael Thaidigsmann

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Margot Friedlander in the lobby of the Brussels Parliament building Photo: Michael Thaidigsmann

The 100-year-old listened spellbound as she recounted her fate in the Theresienstadt camp

The Brussels plenary hall of the European Parliament was by no means filled to capacity, as was the case in previous years. But for the strict corona conditions also in the high house it was nevertheless quite full.

And it was clear to many of the delegates that the annual commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust was not just an obligatory lunchtime event for them. One reason was the petite old woman who spoke to them for half an hour in German with clear, forceful words.

The 100-year-old Margot Friedlander was invited as a contemporary witness – she had first survived the Shoah in hiding and then the Theresienstadt camp north of Prague.

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Her experiences there were the focus of her speech. She described the arrival of people from Auschwitz in Theresienstadt in the spring of 1945. The inmates of the death camp were in the last days before the liberation on the 27th of March. After being sent on a death march in January 1945, she spent almost three months on the road.

"You could not distinguish the living from the dead". People who barely looked like people anymore. Almost all of them wore striped pajamas."Almost all of them were men, but at first glance they appeared sexless, so emaciated and exhausted did they look. One of the arrivals just fell into her arms, Friedlander described. He was so weak that she had to carry him.

AUSCHWITZ "In this one ‘the East’ got a name. At that moment we learned about the death camps. At that moment I knew that I would not see my mother and brother again. Now I had no more hope," she told the delegates about her despair. "What was my survival worth then?"she asked herself at the time.

When on 5. When the SS left the camp in May 1945 and jeeps with the Red Cross flag drove in a short time later, hardly anyone in Theresienstadt had really noticed it. "No one was happy, no one changed their daily routine."

Only three days later, on 8. May, Friedlander said, the Soviet army had taken over the command of Theresienstadt. "Tired soldiers rode in on tired horses."At first, she didn’t want to leave the place, but just wanted to see if it was possible to "go out without being shot."

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Now the former "Herrenmenschen" had been obliged to do the dirty work there in the camp – with a swastika on their clothes. That’s when she thought, "Yes, there is a God after all.". Margot experienced the day of liberation, which was also the end of the Second World War in Europe, together with Adolf Friedlander, whom she already knew from Berlin times and who had also been deported to Theresienstadt.

He immediately proposed marriage to her. Even though she felt blindsided – "I wasn’t in love with Adolf" – she consented. "I needed time to become a human being again. Adolf felt the same way. The pain brought us closer together than being in love."Adolf wore his father’s wedding ring on his finger – the only piece of jewelry not taken off the Jews deported by the Nazis. On 26. June, six weeks after the liberation, Margot and Adolf were married by a rabbi while still in Theresienstadt.

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After a year in a Displaced Persons camp in Deggendorf, Lower Bavaria, they left together for New York in July 1946. In the years that followed, Margot Friedlander said, they traveled extensively, including to Europe, but only once for three days in Germany, in Munich. Her husband had never wanted to return to her hometown of Berlin for the rest of his life. It was only six years after Adolf’s death in 1997 that she visited Berlin again for the first time since her deportation.

MESSAGE In 2008, she put her memories on paper, and two years later she made the decision to move back to the city of her birth at the age of 88 – after 64 years in New York. "I came back to ask you to be the witnesses of the times." This is her message to the young people to whom she tells about her life story, Margot Friedlander said.

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Every human being deserves respect. "There is no Christian blood, no Jewish blood, no Muslim blood. There is only human blood. We are all equal. What was, was. We can no longer change it. It must never, never happen again. I speak not only for the six million Jews who were killed, but for all those who were killed by the National Socialist regime. I say again: Be human!"

CARE At the end of her speech, Friedlander became clear – and addressed the delegates in the hall directly. "You in this House represent millions of people on this continent."There are enormous challenges ahead. "It is with great concern that I see that the Holocaust, like the Nazi war of conquest and extermination, is increasingly being forgotten. We are the last survivors who can still tell of it. Today I see how the memory of what happened is politically abused, sometimes even ridiculed and trampled on."

Margot Friedlander continues: "In disbelief, I had to see, now 100 years old, how symbols of exclusion by the Nazis, the so-called Jewish star, is shamelessly used today by the enemies of democracy on the open street to style themselves as victims. On a day like today, we must stand together so that the memory of the Holocaust remains true," she concluded. She herself had to experience how people denied other people being human. "This must never happen again. That is why we must remain vigilant even now".

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Friedlander received long applause for her speech. Not only numerous members of parliament, but also the German President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, as well as the President of the EU Council, the Belgian Charles Michel, had come to the plenary hall and addressed Margot Friedlander directly in their speeches several times.

At the beginning of the commemoration hour, the President of the European Parliament elected last week, the Christian Democrat Roberta Metsola from Malta, had declared: "On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the crimes against humanity in the past, but we also remember how important it is to raise our voices in the present, united in diversity, against Holocaust deniers, against conspiracy myths, against disinformation and against any kind of violence directed against members of our society and excluding them". One should "never sit back complacently," Metsola stressed.

Michel called the Shoah a European tragedy. "We Europeans are all heirs to this history, our history. We are all the keepers of this memory, our memory." The former Belgian Prime Minister continued: "Europe would not be what it is today without the contributions made by the Jewish people over many centuries. Europe is the home of the Jewish people."

WOULD That’s why today, as anti-Semitism flares up again in Europe, the idea that Jews are being attacked just because they are Jews is "absolutely unbearable," Michel said.

Ursula von der Leyen addressed Margot Friedlander in English and thanked her for her great commitment as a contemporary witness. "Your life story, dear Margot Friedlander, and your strength at the age of 100, prove that dignity and identity are indestructible. It must be immensely difficult, dear Mrs. Friedlander, to bring back these memories again. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart. What you do is an act of greatest philanthropy for all of us and for future generations. Because you open our eyes and give us a sense of freedom. Our freedom is based on the memory of the Holocaust. Because the basic idea at the founding of our Union can be summed up in two words: ‘Never again’!"

With a smile on her face and huddled with two European Parliament staff members, Margot Friedlander left the plenary chamber in Brussels. She had made the deputies forget for a moment the troubles of everyday parliamentary life. And she certainly made no less of an impression on the savvy political professionals than she did on the many schoolchildren to whom she had recounted her life in recent years.

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