This year marks the tenth anniversary of the UN resolution which set January 27 as an international day of commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust, and the seventieth anniversary of the Soviet liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of six million Jews, a million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people and 9,000 homosexuals by the Nazis and their collaborators.
For Jews in particular, the commemoration is especially poignant. Following a delegitimisation campaign during the 1930s when Jews were slandered and persecuted, the Nazis went on to murder two-thirds of European Jewry between 1941 and 1945. By the end of the Second World War, six million Jews had died, with many perishing in the camps set up by the Nazis to systematically annihilate Jewish men, women and children.
Auschwitz-Birkenau has become the defining symbol of the Holocaust. This year’s observance coincides with two other milestone events: the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations.
Ten years ago, the UN passed a resolution to mark January 27 as an international day of commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust. An initiative of the State of Israel, Resolution 60/7 came after a special session was held in 2005 when the UN General Assembly marked the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Holocaust.
Prior to the resolution, there had been national days of commemoration, such as Germany’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism and the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day observed every January 27 since 2001.
As well as establishing January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Resolution 60/7 urges every member nation of UN to honour the memory of the victims of the Shoah, and encourages the development of educational programs, thereby helping to prevent future acts of genocide. It also urges member nations to preserve sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, labour camps and prisons.
So has the world learned the lessons of the Holocaust? Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, do we live in a world where the insidious threat of anti-Semitism has been vanquished or is Judeophobia still a problem to be reckoned with?
While it is unlikely that Europe’s Jews face another Holocaust, the problem of anti-Semitism remains. The murder of Jews in France and the rhetoric of Jew-hatred emanating from some mosques and Islamic websites are manifestations of a resurgent anti-Semitism. Moreover, the rise of neo-Nazi groups in Greece and Hungary, Jew-baiting on the radical Left, and the boycotts initiated by the BDS movement, are further problems facing contemporary Jews.
Even before Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 (when European anti-Semitism reached an unprecedented post-1945 high), a survey found that one in four Jews in Europe had suffered anti-Semitic harassment in 2012-13. According to the study, around half of all Jews living in France, Belgium and Hungary were considering emigrating because they no longer felt safe in their respective countries.
According to the Jewish Agency, 2,254 French Jews moved to Israel during the first five months of 2014, compared with 580 in all of 2013 – an increase of 289 per cent, with many emigrants citing Muslim anti-Semitism as the reason for making Aliyah. Aliyah, of course, is a testament to the success of Zionism, but it is also a sad indication that Europe has still not learnt to cherish its Jewish communities, even after the horrors of the Holocaust.
Until very recently, the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe has received little attention, partly because much of the abuse is carried out by Muslims who hide behind the banner of Islamophobia. Muslims who attack Jews in Paris and elsewhere claim it is retribution on behalf of their Palestinians. And the liberal elite, which should have learned the lessons of the Holocaust, tacitly agrees.
Indeed, the liberal fashion for the one-sided criticism of Israel – in addition to the growing culture of anti-Zionist hate speech on campuses and mosques – must be addressed or more and more Jews will be targeted by jihadists. For the sake of a healthy body politic, legislators, the media, influential thinkers and Muslim community leaders must say “no” to anti-Semitism in all its forms – and this includes inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric.
If we have learned one thing from the Holocaust, it is that the defamation of an entire people – whether it be “the Jews” or the State of Israel – usually ends in murder. The slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust, the killing of French Jews in a kosher supermarket and the recent massacre of four rabbis in Jerusalem – all these events had their origins in words –lies, hate speech, deceit and propaganda.
Europe and the wider world must remember this simple lesson – that anti-Jewish rhetoric such as “death to Israel” usually results in the murder of Jews. When influential Muslim leaders call for jihad against Jews, then bloodshed is inevitable. Iran’s genocidal call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” is a clear statement of intent: the extermination of Israeli Jews. For the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel faces an existential threat – the mass murder of of Jews in a nuclear attack.
So, seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we live in a world where anti-Semitism is still a pressing problem for the Jewish people. Another Holocaust in Europe is unlikely but this does not mean that Jews are safe and secure. Far from it. Many Jews are afraid of the violence in Europe and are making Aliyah. Meanwhile, the State of Israel is being pressured by a hostile world to radically compromise its security in order to reach a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Will the world ever learn? Probably not.