An assault on Jewish rites, the likes of which have not been seen since the Nazi era, is spreading throughout Europe. From Poland to Iceland, antisemitism is back in the mainstream.
Holocaust denial is nothing new. Yet, where it used to hide in dark corners under the domain of antisemitic fanatics and rogue regimes, it has now been drawn out into the blinding light of day.
The Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews is fading from the collective memory of the world. Its history is being rewritten, like a plot line ripped from the pages of George Orwell’s 1984 where the truth is no longer the truth, up is no longer down and left is no longer right. History is no longer carved in stone, but written in sand, easily washed away along with the evening tides.
There is something happening in the world that is scary, frightening and alarming, unfolding before our very eyes. Something that we thought was not supposed to ever happen again.
In May 2015, the Ukraine attempted to rewrite its history by passing laws condemning the Soviet and Nazi regimes, yet ignoring its own participation in the mass murder of Jews. Any attempts to disagree with that new version, could land you in jail for up to ten years.
They also praised the soldiers and partisans who fought in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – a militia who had allied themselves with the German Wehrmacht against the Soviets.
The leader of that militia was Roman Shukhevych, a Nazi collaborator, who in June 1941, carried out a series of pogroms in Lviv, murdering 6000 Jews. In June 2017, he was celebrated in that same town, where a festival was held in his honor.
Like the Ukraine, Poland has now decided to jump aboard the historical train of denial, passing a series of laws that has raised the ire of the Israeli government and Jews worldwide.
In January they passed a law making it illegal to use the term “Polish death camp.” Any violation of that could lead to a prison sentence of up to three years and even Holocaust survivors are not immune to it.
When Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennet voiced criticism of this, Poland duly cancelled an official visit by him scheduled for later that month.
The assault in Poland on the Jewish world continues with additional laws. One, a law restricting the slaughtering and export of kosher meat. A second one, to add further insult, freezes a law addressing the restitution of Jewish property. This effectively allows Polish citizens to profit from stolen Jewish property.
To top it all off, at a security conference in Munich last weekend, the Polish prime minister spoke about perpetrators in the holocaust, including the term “Jewish perpetrators.” He effectively drew a moral equivalence with the Ukrainians, the Nazis and those Poles who willingly participated in mass murder.
These actions have led to an explosion in outright antisemitism in Polish society. It is becoming so bad that Jews, for the first time since 1968, have openly expressed their fear of living there.
Now, it’s true that the Nazi death camps were created and administered by the Germans, not the Poles. It’s true that Poland was a brutalized nation, subject to a cruel occupation, a nation the Nazis regarded as a source for slave labor. It’s also true that more Polish citizens are recognized as Righteous Amongst the Nations than any others.
But it’s also true that there exists in significant parts of Polish culture a long history of antisemitism – which is a reason the Germans chose Poland as their primary killing ground.
In July 1941, Polish citizens participated in rounding up their Jewish neighbours in the town of Jedwabne, and murdered around 340 of them by locking them in barn and setting it alight, burning them alive. For many it was an opportunity to get back at the Jews who they saw as rich and different.
Even after the war, in 1946, when just a few remaining Holocaust survivors returned to the town of Kielce to reclaim their properties, they were subjected to a pogrom by a mob of Polish civilians, police and soldiers which ended in 40 of them being murdered. There was not a single German soldier in sight.
It is not just Poland in which this new wave of antisemitism exists though. Around Europe the banning of Kashrut, or kosher slaughter, is growing. In Denmark and Belgium, it already has been banned.
In Iceland a law is being discussed right now that will ban circumcisions. If passed, it will mean that Jews cannot follow their oldest covenant, between Abraham and God, effectively marking the end of all Jewish communal life in the country.
This assault on Jewish rights, rites and traditions – the likes that have not been seen since the Nazi era – will only get worse, because in the next few years, as the last of the Holocaust survivors pass on, there will be no more direct witnesses to the world’s darkest hour. The history of the Holocaust will suddenly become a story that will fade into the background, subject to rumors and myth and accusations of forgery, existing only in old tattered books and faded pictures.
“Never Again” is something we Jews say a lot. We say it, because “never again” will we be powerless subjects in a world that has turned its back on us far too often.
This is especially true today because we now have the State of Israel. We are now the masters of our own destiny.
So, never again will our very lives and our very security depend on the whims of leaders and committees who will not guarantee that security. Never again will our very existence hang precariously on a thread held by others who dismiss our history and our pain and our suffering. Never again will we allow a disaster such as the Holocaust to befall our people.
It is the responsibility of the Jewish people to keep those memories alive and to remind the world, because if we, the generation of today, do not do so, those memories too will fade into the mists of time, never to resurface again.
We will continue to remember them all, even as the world is starting to forget.
Justin Amler is a noted South African born, Australia-based writer and commentator on international issues.
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