Something interesting struck me on Sunday when I heard the incredible Freddie Knoller, an Auschwitz survivor, speak about his experiences during the War at a synagogue event in North London. He was, of course, generally a fascinating person and many things about his story touched me. His eternal optimism and spirit permeated endlessly through tales of his harrowing experiences and it is this that he feels helped him to survive the atrocities he was faced with during the War. However, what affected me the most was hearing about the brutality of these atrocities and his first hand descriptions of the barbaric nature of his treatment in the camps.
He spoke about being forced to run when carrying 25kg cement bags while working in a chemical factory at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Guards would stand watch, ready to whip people if they dared slow their pace even for a second. Treatment like this was of course commonplace in all the camps, yet there was something about the imagery that Mr Knoller described which seemed to have a wider resonance and significance for me. My mind was immediately taken back to depictions of the story of Exodus from when I was a child- mostly the romanticised Hollywood versions of it, which portrayed the Jews enslaved in Egypt toiling away at building the pyramids, with glaring Egyptian guards standing around with whips ready to torture those that showed weakness. There is of course much historical debate over the veritable details of the experience of the Jews in Egypt, however it is very likely that they were unjustly enforced into some form of hard labour. This link in imagery which to me was so significant allowed me to reflect upon the issues of the evolvement of Anti-Semitism, and the way it manifests itself, over time.
Physical instruments of ‘medieval’ torture, such as whips, may no longer be as present among the hands of those that wish to annihilate the Jews and all that they stand for. However, the impact of propaganda is enduring and this is something which goes unchecked and un-reprimanded every day. They are the source of the incitement of violence and the seeds of violent attacks, and it is undeniable that the impact of the dissemination of such things can be eternally significant. The rise of Anti-Semitic ideas during the 1930s in Europe can be traced to deep underlying hatred of Jews always bubbling under the surface, due partially to the ancient Christian blood libel for example. Yet the primary cause of such a strong resurgence of Anti-Semitism, which resulted in the Holocaust, was without a doubt the sheer weight of propaganda materials which were issued and widely dispersed by Anti-Semites and subsequently the Nazis as they came to power.
‘Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?’, asked the BBC recently. The answer to that is surely no, and through asking this question it seems we have already forgotten the lessons we supposedly should have learnt from it. It isn’t at all time to lay the Holocaust to rest, one reason being the undoubtable truth that the ideas which fueled Nazi ideology are still alive and growing today. In fact, they have only become increasingly more dangerous, as the technological age and the advance of social media creates the ideal climate for the dispersion of propaganda material. One of the chief pieces of propaganda which both influenced the Nazis and was utilized to their benefit when they came to power was of course the Anti-Semitic hoax ‘the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. This work caused an increase in the widespread acceptance of the idea that Jews aspire to take over the world and are the source of all evil, an idea which is instrumental in Anti-Semitic ideology and which remains a prevalent problem today. We can see the current significance of this when looking, for example, at a recently poll published in the Palestinian news paper Ma’an, which showed that 84% of Palestinians believe that the recent terror attacks in France were suspicious and Israel may be behind them.
Words of propaganda which promote Anti-Semitic ideas are today thrown about constantly, be it by government officials, the media, or online trolls. The dangerous thing about these words is that due to their nature they can be harder to act upon than physical actions, and therefore haven’t been sufficiently acted upon and addressed. Thanks to organisations which monitor Anti-Semitism on various media outlets, such CiFWatch and CAMERA, it is much easier to be made aware of Anti-Semitism if one looks out for it. However, if one doesn’t it is very easy for understanding of the situation to be skewed. In a world where we are wholly reliant on the media for information, lack of sufficient vigilance by the mainstream Western media in exposing Anti-Semitism has a huge impact.
This week we are commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day, and unfortunately the fight against Anti-Semitism and the threat to Jews is still very much in continuation, even 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. The barbaric violence, stigmatisation and marginalisation of the Jews that has been in existence constantly for thousand of years continues to grow, taking on new forms and manifesting itself in different ways depending on changes in the makeup of societies. Considering this, it is essential, especially on Holocaust Memorial Day, that we honour the wishes of so many survivors. So many of them have cried out, pleading and hoping that such a thing may never occur again, and we must act swiftly and vigilantly to ensure that it doesn’t.