An audiovisual exhibition describing the attempts by Spanish diplomats to help Jewish victims of Nazi Germany is on display at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The 'Visas for Freedom' event, (21 January to 20 February 2009) uncovers a little known aspect of wartime history, showing how state officials offered naturalisation certificates and letters of protection to Jews desperate to escape genocide.

Sanz Briz, a Spanish diplomat working in Budapest in 1944, saved more than 5 000 victims fleeing the ‘Final Solution.'

''The Holocaust was a crime of horrendous proportions, and it has provoked much soul searching and debate about responsibility and guilt - both individual and collective,'' a Council of Europe spokesman explained.

''But as the guilt is individual so is the courage of those who stand up against the criminals and who risk their own lives to help the victims.

''This exhibition tells the stories of some of these people, Spanish diplomats at the time of the Franco regime, people who refused to follow orders because they were led by their own sense of human dignity, by their own sense of what was right and what was so obviously wrong.''

Yet the exhibition's celebration of individual courage and fundamental values during the darkest period of European Jewish history comes at a time of growing anti-Semitism in Europe, sparked by the renewal of violence in the Middle East.

In the United Kingdom , the Guardian newspaper reports that police patrols have been stepped up in Jewish neighbourhoods following “the most intense period of anti-Semitic incidents” recorded in Britain in recent decades.

''Safety fears are so acute that reports have emerged of members of Britain ' s Jewish community fleeing the UK with anti-Semitic incidents running at around seven a day this year,'' the newspaper revealed on 8 February.

''Around 270 cases have been reported in 2009, according to figures compiled by the Community Security Trust (CST), the body that monitors anti-Jewish racism.''

President Nicolas Sarkozy has also been forced to address anti-Semitic violence in France . In January 2009, there were nine Molotov cocktail attacks against the Synagogue of Saint-Denis. A meeting centre for Jews in Schiltigheim, a suburb of Strasbourg , was also firebombed, supporting the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism's fear of a ''multiplication of anti-Semitic acts in France'', in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

Jewish groups cite growing anti-Semitism in Denmark and Greece and point to two arson attacks against a Jewish centre in Helsingborg , Sweden . In Italy , there have even been calls for a boycott of Jewish-run shops in Rome.

As the 70th anniversary approaches of the outbreak of the Second World War, the Council of Europe's anti-discrimination campaign aims to put the spotlight on anti-Semitism.

''It would be totally wrong to think that the world has not changed since 1933,'' Secretary General Terry Davis declared in November 2008. ''There will not be another Kristallnacht, and there will not be another Holocaust. But not because Kristallnacht and the Holocaust could not happen again, but because we cannot, must not and will not let it happen again.''

''It is so important not only to remember what happened, but also to keep in mind that terror never comes in one fell swoop.

''Behind the terror of the Kristallnacht, behind the brutal violence by storm troopers in the street, was a still greater terror, one that paralysed the capacity for action, prevented neighbours from reacting, friends from feeling, let alone expressing the slightest concern. A terror that passed a sentence of solitude. First there was isolation. Then came discrimination – and finally came violence.''

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Photo Gallery of the exhibition


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