Melanie Goldberg discusses the gravity of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the significance of understanding the history behind it.
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which consisted of over 40 different concentration and death camps in which over 1 million people perished, the majority of which were Jews. Other groups that were persecuted by the Nazis were the Roma and Sinti communities, LGBTQ+, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people, black people, and anybody who opposed the Nazi regime. Whilst the Nazis attempted to destroy important evidence, it is estimated that over 6 million Jews and over 6 million others were systematically murdered. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates all those who died at the hands of the Nazis, and those of other genocides, such as Rwanda and Cambodia. Devastatingly, Holocaust denial continues to be extensive and far-reaching.
After recently being on the receiving end of antisemitism, my belief in the utter necessity on adequate anti-Jewish racism has only been enforced. My concerns were belittled and I was victimised. The principal excuse that consistently appeared was the alleged lack of awareness over the offensiveness of the incident. I felt disappointed and unwelcome and felt forced to make a heartbreaking decision to remove myself from a group that I loved.
Lack of awareness was not the only issue in this situation: there was also an unwillingness to admit fault and to trivialise the offending actions. This plays into the common trope that antisemitism is an insignificant issue as, on the whole, Jews are considered relatively successful in the public sphere, and therefore our concerns are inconsequential. This was a reaction to the incident which involved an individual employing a blatantly antisemitic caricature in a post on social media. This image, a caricature depicting a man with a large hooked nose and a Kippa (a Jewish head covering), was a commonly used image in Nazi propaganda and is instantly recognisable to Jews as being deeply offensive and hurtful. It can only be deduced that these individuals were lacking in insight over what constitutes antisemitism, a consequence of a lack of education on antisemitism and the Holocaust.
This Holocaust Memorial Day should be an opportunity to educate oneself on antisemitism and become an ally to Jews. Research Nazi propaganda and antisemitic tropes and canards that have been employed for hundreds, and some thousands, of years. Be prepared to recognise antisemitic dog-whistles such as “Jewish lobby”, “Jewish-controlled media” and the depiction of Jews as greedy, untrustworthy, deceitful and money-obsessed. Antisemitism vastly differs from other forms of racism due to these markers being much more subtle and more difficult to recognise. Moreover, criticisms of Israel and employment of the term “Zionist” is not an excuse to replace the word “Jew”, whilst continuing to employ these stereotypes. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is only an issue for those who realise that their internalised bigotry has become unacceptable.
It is important that the responsibility of education on these issues are not solely put on Jews. Websites such as Yad Vashem, Community Security Trust (CST) and The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust are very informative resources. If you take other forms of discrimination seriously, but not antisemitism, then you are complicit by refusing to unlearn your prejudices. Call out antisemitism where you see or hear it as it can also be commonplace in areas with an absence of Jews. Learn about the history of antisemitism; the forced expulsions of Jews from France, Spain, Portugal, England, and more, the Pogroms in Eastern and Central Europe, the Dreyfus Affair and the mass exodus of Jews during the 1940s and 50s from countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Iran. The invasiveness and dangerous internalisation of antisemitism have allowed for these injustices to take place, without facing much opposition. This apathy allowed the Holocaust to cause such a devastating outcome.
Without attempting to understand Jewish history, it is infinitely more difficult to recognise discrimination and bigotry. Denial of internalisation and normalisation of this behaviour is counterproductive. When diaspora Jews are feeling unsafe in their own countries, then there’s a problem. There have been many terrifying attacks on Jewish communities in recent years; the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the Toulouse attack, the Copenhagen synagogue shooting, and the Halle synagogue shooting just a few months ago are just among some. Levels of antisemitism have risen drastically in the last decade, with CST recording an all-time recorded high of 1,652 antisemitic incidents in their 2018 annual review, compared to 1,420 incidents in 2017. Synagogues and Jewish institutions require extensive security, including the police on important festivals and events, and many more security measures are detailed in a specific report published by CST.
Use this Holocaust Memorial Day as an opportunity for education as I cannot stress this enough, antisemitism is still alive and well. Diaspora Jews continue to be apprehensive about our wellbeing and concerned for our future. This cannot continue, so I implore a halt to ignoring or trivialising this issue: instead, support us.