Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

Unspoken Words on January 27

Seventy years, well, a little more by now, have passed since WWII ended. I have lost track on the number of commemorations I have attended as a speaker or as a guest. Auschwitz is clearly still actual – not just because of the date of its liberation but because of its symbolism. Anyone, well, less now than a few years ago, will know that Auschwitz is the symbol of all evil. Anyone used to know that a million Jews were murdered there. Yes, and some others too, but surely we all know that the Jews were the main victims of the factory of death. The Holocaust was and is foremost a Jewish tragedy. This despite the attempt to say that it is a universal tragedy. It is that too but only in the sense of showing us, non-Jewish societies of Europe, how we lost our values.

Ceremonies for this date are dignified. Everywhere, they are just so, and rightly so. People expect to hear a Holocaust survivor, by now realizing that this is an unexpected treat. Music is sad and soulful. People feel very differently about these things but, for the most part, the message is clear and one leaves with a sadness accompanied by resolve. Never Again! This sentence is spoken every year. It always left me wondering what, if anything, was meant by it.

But something else disturbs me now.

Lately I attended a wonderful ceremony in a capital of a EU member state. I met with survivors and spoke with important European decision-makers. I was invited to speak about anti-Semitism. I realized that it was quite uncomfortable. I realized that I started to self-censor and tried to find the most diplomatic ways of saying things. Following my presentation, there was a general discussion. We all realized that we were worried that saying certain things would make us into extremists and trouble-makers. Not that we are. But we would be called such, which at this age and time is almost the same thing. Being too straightforward about anti-Semitism is for trouble-makers.

According to the people present, even some of our elected officials are afraid to speak out on anti-Semitism. Certainly, saying that hating Israel equals anti-Semitism is a taboo in many circles. Saying that anti-Semitism has survived from the Middle Ages and through the Nazi period unto our days is hard. Saying that anti-Semitism in today’s Europe comes from all quarters and parties and has religious connections is hard.

Saying that some political decisions, anti-Israel decisions, might be based on less than pure motives is out of question.

What is so powerful that it can make elected officials silent? How is our European society going to look like in a few years’ time if certain topics are forbidden?

I am very disturbed by what I saw and heard.

What is the point of commemorating the past if it does not inform our choices today?

 

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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