JERUSALEM — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire for saying that the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven.
“We can forgive, but we cannot forget,” Bolsonaro reportedly said at a meeting with evangelical pastors in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday night. “Those who forget the past are condemned to not have a future,” he added, according to the New York Times. His comments drew applause from the pastors.
Bolsonaro, a pro-Israel Christian, visited Israel earlier this month and had a private tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
“It is not the place of any person to determine whether the crimes of the Holocaust can be forgiven,” Yad Vashem said in a statement sent to Israeli media on Saturday night. “From the day of its founding, Yad Vashem has worked for the continuation of the memory and meaning [of the Holocaust] for the Jewish people and for mankind as a whole.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was very direct in his criticism in a tweet. “What Amalek did to us inscribed in our memory, the memory of an ancient people. We will never aid those who deny the truth or those who wish to expunge our memory — not individuals or groups, not party leaders or prime ministers. We will never forgive and never forget. No-one will order the forgiveness of the Jewish people, and it can never be bought in the name of interests. The Jewish people will always fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Political leaders are responsible for shaping the future. Historians describe the past and research what happened. Neither should stray into the territory of the other.”
Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, Yossi Shelley, quoted Bolsonaro as writing, “Forgiveness is something personal; my speech was never meant to be used in a historical context, especially one where millions of innocent people were murdered in a cruel genocide.”
Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Bolsonaro said that Nazism was a leftist movement. The far-right leader was asked by reporters hours after his visit if he agreed with a recent claim by his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, that Nazis were leftists.
“There is no doubt, right?” Bolsonaro replied. He went on to say that the Nazi party’s official name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, contains the word “socialist.”
Yad Vashem follows the historical consensus that Nazism was the product of “the growth of radical right-wing groups in Germany.”