5 November, 2014

Violeta Friedman, Survivor and fighter

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Category: Antisemitism, Fascism, Holocaust
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Blog1_Violeta FriedmanWritten by Olga Hurtado – President of the Council of Victims of Hate Crimes, COVIDOD, Spain

She was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who, through her fight for tolerance and remembrance, led Spain to reform its Legal code and earned a permanent place in history. Her name was Violeta Friedman.

This brave woman was born in Romania in 1930. Before her 14th birthday, she and the rest of her family were deported by the Nazis to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents were executed in gas chambers on the night of their arrival. She and her older sister, the only survivors from the family, remained at Auschwitz-Birkenau until the camp was liberated in 1945.

Following the war, Ms. Friedman moved to Canada and later to Venezuela, where she married. In 1965, she and her children moved to Spain. For almost forty years after leaving Auschwitz, Violeta Friedman remained silent about her traumatic experiences. However, in 1985, she initiated a landmark legal process against Holocaust denial, becoming a voice for Holocaust survivors and upholding her duty to retell the past.

Leon Degrelle, a former general of the Nazi´s Waffen SS, who sought asylum in Spain after Belgian courts sentenced him to death following the war, released racist and anti-Semitic statements in the Spanish magazine Tiempo (Time). There, he denied the Holocaust and the existence of the very gas chambers where Ms. Friedman´s family perished. In response to these statements, Violeta Friedman launched what would be a pivotal six year judicial process against Degrelle. Friedman’s lawyer, Jorge Trías Sagnier, affirmed that Degrelle had attacked Friedman’s honor by denying the Holocaust. Degrelle´s lawyer, Juan Servando Balaguer, defended him by appealing to freedom of speech.

During the trial, Friedman affirmed her strong support of freedom of speech, but maintained that it must not injure other citizens, and she explained that: “[Degrelle’s] declarations have traumatized me because they intend to deny me the most basic rights that I have left, and I will do what I must to ensure Justice”. According to Friedman, this was a fight against the racist ideology that seeks to incite hatred and violence. Throughout the judicial process, she was frequently confronted by neo-Nazi groups and supporters of Degrelle shouting anti-Semitic exclamations such as “Hitler was right.” After six years of trials, the case finally came to a close. On November 11, 1991, the Constitutional Court decided in her favor that Degrelle was guilty of attacking the honor of Violeta Friedman and all victims of Nazi concentration camps. According to the Spanish Constitution, freedom of expression may not legally be used to spread racist or xenophobic ideology. This crucial sentence became the precedent for Spain’s reform of its Penal Code in relation to racism.

Violeta Friedman was a devoted advocate for liberty, tolerance and Human Rights; a champion against historical revisionism and the trivialization of the Holocaust. Since her famous Court action, Ms. Friedman dedicated herself to preserving the memory of the Holocaust to prevent it from ever happening again. She published a book in 1995 entitled “Mis Memorias” (My Memories) and participated actively in the fight against terrorism and the support of victims of racist violence. She also undertook a comprehensive educational campaign to promote tolerance in future generations. In 1996, she was named a “President of Honor” by the Spanish NGO Movement against Intolerance.  Violeta Friedman passed away in Madrid on October 4, 2000.

In her book, Ms. Friedman explains: “I have wanted to tell my story simply as one more testimony, so that we never forget, so that the testimonies of those of us who were there can serve as a torch that guides our children on the path of Tolerance and Peace.  Perhaps, and this is my biggest wish, this can prevent the seeds of hate from sprouting again, and the world will always be able to say what we will never tire of repeating: “never again.”

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