Eli Wiesel once remarked that, “Without memory there would no culture. Without memory there would be no society, no civilization, no future.” Our collective memory of the Holocaust is fading fast. We must not let it. If we allow the horrors of the past to fade into history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes again.
However, we need more that just ceremony and commemoration. When anti-Semitism is on the rise, when Jews are once again fleeing Europe. When a murderous Islamic extremist ideology is threatening our existence, we need action as well as words.
Very soon there will be no survivors left to tell their story, making it even more significant that Europe and indeed the wider world continues to take this day seriously and maintains its prominence in the global calendar. Preserving the memory of this horrific event is part of our humanity. We must celebrate the triumph of good over evil and be grateful to the heroes of World War II for winning us the freedom we have today.
Commemoration is therefore of the utmost importance, but we need more. Simply repeating “never again” will not prevent hate boiling over into violence, consuming our continent and undermining the freedom we have fought so hard for. Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer said: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” Today, 71 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, we must not let passive tolerance take over as Europe slips back into darkness before our very eyes.
The European Jewish Congress is marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year at the European Parliament in Brussels. This very occurrence highlights the remarkable progress Europe has made in 71 years. World War II was so devastating that our leaders sought to restructure the entire political, economic and social order of the continent in order to secure peace. Today, it is these institutions that reinforce the fundamental values that set Europe apart as a beacon of democracy and champion of human rights.
The Holocaust must continue to be a poignant lesson that we must internalize and actively remember so that such catastrophic human failings cannot reoccur. When we say “never again” it is a commitment we make to those who suffered the horrors of the death camps, and to future generations, that we will not stand by and allow Europe to fall again.
After World War II, the continent was redesigned so that neighbors would no longer wage war on one another, so that societies could be stable, prosperous and free from human suffering. The architects of the European Union did not, however, foresee the challenges with Islamic terrorism, incitement and hatred that we face today, and our leaders’ lack of preparedness undermines the entire European project. Today, Jews once again face fear, violence and intimidation in Europe. We must therefore act now before it is too late.
France has the largest Jewish population of any European nation, and the rise in anti-Semitism is a cause for grave concern. A recent report by Human Rights First showed that over half of all reported hate crimes in 2015 in France were anti-Semitic, which is particularly shocking given the fact that Jews make up only 1 percent of the French population. The dramatic exodus of Jews from France shows that these fears are real and so severe that people would leave their homes in order to protect their families.
This crisis is not limited to France. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) released a report of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 that once again demonstrated a substantial rise in hate attacks on Jews across the continent. Two-thirds of respondents to the FRA’s survey consider anti-Semitism to be a problem in their country, and 76 percent believe that during the past five years anti-Semitism has increased in the country where they live.
I would therefore like to see a commitment from every government in Europe for increased police protection at Jewish institutions, more money made available for security, clear no-nonsense language condemning Islamic radicalism and tougher new legislation. All this should be coordinated with the new EU anti-Semitism envoy and through a dedicated anti-Semitism task force.
This reality is chilling. It shows us people do not learn and that we can easily slip into complacency. It is time for our leaders to commit to a robust, unified and coordinated approach to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism. We must all stand against hate and refuse to allow history to repeat itself, making “never again” a reality.
Moshe Kantor is the president of the European Jewish Congress