November Pogroms: Remembering Has to Mean Action

My grandmother with her parents in Vienna

Eighty-two years ago my grandmother, Susi Guttmann, was eight. She lived in Vienna’s Tempelgasse, right next to the Grand Synagogue. But on November nine 1938 everything changed. On this cold Thursday, almost every Jewish institution across the “German Reich” was destroyed, burnt down, and desecrated. On this day, her father was deported to the concentration camp Dachau. On this day, her apartment was aryanized by her Nanny – all of a sudden, they were homeless. And until today, my grandmother says she can’t forget the smell of Vienna’s grand Synagogue burning down.

My Grandmother survived by fleeing to Shanghai, where she lived in the local Ghetto for the next 10 years. Many others didn’t get to escape. 

The November pogroms were one of the starting points of the most horrific crime in human history. Although planned in the highest ranks of the Nazi regime, it was carried out by an angry mob in the streets – consisting not of nameless faces but rather the “dear” neighbors and everyday acquaintances.

In the last eighty-two years, a lot has changed for the better, but antisemitism and racism still exist and pose a serious threat. During the Corona-pandemic, we saw a dangerous rise in antisemitic conspiracy ideologies and their believers across Europe. We have seen how verbal violence on the internet can lead to physical violence on our streets. A study commissioned by the European Union, acting on the advice of EUJS, showed that almost half of Europe’s young Jews have experienced antisemitism in the last year. The Study was commissioned in 2019. Last year the problem has grown even more. 

At the same time, Jewish life is well and vibrant across Europe, in many communities it is young Jews that are leading the way, reshaping their communities and defining our future. Way too often the spotlight is taken from them because the ugly face of antisemitism is raising its head. 

Returning to my grandmother – when four years ago, a far-right candidate won the first round of Austria’s presidential elections she said: “Now they are back.” That candidate lost in the end, but all over Europe, the situation looks dire.

Every year, we say “Never Again”, but to simply say the phrase is not enough. Rather than shielding ourselves with passive ‘thoughts and prayers’, we must confront the dangers we face with determined action. So when we say “never again”, we must mean it – by standing united in the face of a growing threat of resurgent antisemitism.

Across the world, forces of antisemitism, racism, and hate are on the rise. More and more countries have ascendant far-right forces or even far-right governments. The West collectively forgot that Nazis still threaten the lives and the security of Jews. Pittsburgh, Poway, and recently Halle served as sobering reminders. At the same time, jihadi terrorists are threatening us across Europe. Both far-right ideology and Islamism will always remain a mortal danger to the Jewish people. Fascisms logical conclusion is antisemitism; is to kill Jews. We can never work with far-rights, co-opt them, or cooperate with them. They can never be our ally and we have a duty to oppose them in all their forms.

Even though it’s not always us who are their first target, we must lead in standing up to the forces of hate and defeat them with the forces of unity. As young Jews, we can’t simply stand by and look on as the forces of the far-right get normalised and accepted into the mainstream. 

When we say “never again”, that also means we have to go out onto the streets! When we say “never forget” we have to warn the loudest when there are radical developments.

Never again!

About the Author
Bini Guttmann, from Vienna, Austria, is the President of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS), the umbrella organization representing more than 160.000 young Jews between 18 and 35 in 36 countries.
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