“Jewish life in Germany must be supported and protected.” These are not the words of a Jewish person concerned about the safety of their community.
This is what Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said as she accepted the 2019 World Jewish Congress Theodor Herzl Award in Munich last week. For me, that one sentence encapsulated the incredible strides Germany has made since the end of World War Two to reconcile its dark past with efforts to repair and nurture its Jewish community.
The Theodor Herzl Award recognizes outstanding individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals for a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people. While Germany still has a long way to go to heal the wounds of the past, a recognition of Chancellor Merkel’s leadership was long overdue. This is the reason I joined this event, to personally thank Mrs Merkel and express the gratitude of the Jewish communities of Ukraine and Europe.
The timing of the Award was poignant – just a few weeks before, a gunman shot and killed two people in a tragic attack on a synagogue in the German city of Halle over Yom Kippur. The Chancellor described it as “a heinous crime that fills us with utmost shame”. In the wake of the Halle shooting, the German government announced new measures to crack down on extremism, including new draft laws on hate-speech, particularly online, and new restrictions for gun buyers.
Unfortunately, this recent attack wasn’t an isolated incident. Across Europe and Germany in particular, antisemitism is on the rise. According to research conducted by the European Agency of Fundamental Rights, 44% of young Jews in Europe say they were targeted at least once in the past year. It saddens me that this is the reality young Europeans have to face in 2019. In my home country Ukraine, three Holocaust memorials were recently desacralized within a matter of weeks of each other.
While presenting Chancellor Merkel with her award, WJC President, Ronald S. Lauder, underscored the fear many Jews are experiencing across Europe. “The ancient hate against the Jews is rearing its ugly head again all over Europe”, Lauder said, and the levels are unprecedented since 1945.
While the new anti-extremism laws in Germany should certainly contribute to the protection of religious communities, education must also be a central pillar for fighting antisemitism.
Without learning from the mistakes of the past, new generations risk growing up ignorant about the destructive power of words and actions that could threaten the existence of an entire people. This is why educating people about the Holocaust and antisemitism has been a key objective of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine in our continued fight against hatred towards Jews.
We must also actively promote positive role models and champions of tolerance. This is the reason giving this award to Chancellor Merkel was so important and why her words resonated so deeply with the audience in Munich – “I regardthis award that carries the name of Theodor Herzl as an obligation never to be content with what has been achieved but to continue striving toward a better future in unison with our partners”.