As the heavens opened to accept our final lamentations and Yom Kippur – our holiest of the holiest days – came to a close, we were shaken back to reality upon hearing of the violent antisemitic attack against a synagogue in Halle, Germany. The miracle would have been a massacre had the Nazi gunman broke through a fortified door intending to murder the 80 worshippers who were in silent contemplation. Instead, and sadly, he murdered two people near the synagogue.
Of late, and despite its dark history, there has been a surge of antisemitism in Germany. In 2018, the head of German police reported a whopping 1,800 antisemitic crimes representing a 20% increase from the previous year. Moreover, violent crime against individual Jewish people rose from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. No wonder the hate crimes police unit failed to show up at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin for our meeting with Compassion to Action senior police, education and political leaders. We were disappointed and the moment failed to pass unnoticed on Canadian law enforcement.
Just recently, Germany’s antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein (full disclosure: whom I have met in Toronto) made world-wide headlines when he warned the Jewish community not to wear the yarmulke in public, citing public safety concerns after a man wearing the Star of David was beaten down and kicked in the centre of Berlin. The international outrage over that statement was swift over this renewed and recurrent sense of marginalization, isolation and victimization of Jewish-German citizens. The German newspaper Bild began a campaign of solidarity with the Jewish community asking all Germans to wear a yarmulke as a protest against antisemitism. With pressure building, Klein backtracked on his call for Jews to stop wearing yarmulkes in public.
German antisemitism is still a problem. Now we are all asking, has their genocide against the Jews ended their centuries-old hatred against us? While Germany has confronted its past and continues to educate and advocate, not enough is being done to confront its historical record. Campaign posters in so-called ‘Luther country’ Thuringia have raised the specter of antisemitism in recent days. Apparently and according to reports, the NPD party, which is classified as a “neo-Nazi party by the Counter Extremism Project,” is using images of Martin Luther and slogans like “defend the homeland” on campaign signs.
In his infamous 1543 treatise “On the Jews and Their Lies,” Luther called for the burning of synagogues, confiscation of Jewish prayer books and religious writings and expulsion of Jews from cities. This treatise some 500 years before the Holocaust contributed to the antisemitism that prevailed in Germany then and still to this day. It’s time to think about the roots of antisemitism in all their manifestations and work toward eradicating them. Only then can the world confront this social ill which has plagued humanity for more than 2,000 years.
The Holocaust itself did not begin in 1933 – it took centuries of transmission of hatred from one generation to the next for this tsunami of hatred to materialize into a genocide. To understand the Holocaust itself, one must understand the history of antisemitism and its purveyors; thus, all lessons about the Holocaust must include this complex context that gave rise to Nazism itself.
Each year when we travel with senior Canadian leaders on our annual journey to the death camps, we spend much time peeling away the layers of antisemitism. The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum. It was brought upon by centuries of defamatory rhetoric against the Jewish nation, manifesting in hundreds of occurrences of organized massacres (called pogroms), expulsions and ghettoization of Jewish communities. It is said that in Munich on this day (October 11th) in 1285, 180 Jewish people were killed by a mob who falsely believed Jews purchased and killed a Christian child.
We have a chance to make the world a better place and to root out evil and the violent tremors which still try to break down our synagogue doors.