Europe’s foundations are constructed upon ashes and dust. They are built where the walls of the ghettos were once erected around overcrowded quarters in Warsaw, Łódź, and Krakow. They are built upon the pits of Babi Yar and the mass graves made across Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine. They are built upon the ruins of the camps whose names are forever branded on our collective memory: Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor.
Europe exists because of the Holocaust – it is forever tied to that awful past. Through education, commemoration, and memorialisation, the peoples of Europe are constantly borne back to the horrific events which preceded our zero hour, in the knowledge that they were of our own making and that it is our responsibility as a continent to ensure such things never occur again. European institutions exist precisely in order to prevent another war to end all wars, another war of imperialism, slavery, and annihilation.
By extension, Europe also exists in order to protect those who were the victims of the last great war and Hitler’s campaign of racial and biological purification, including and perhaps above all the Jewish people. Ensuring the safety and allowing for the political, economic, and cultural flourishing of European Jewry is or should be one of postwar Europe’s founding principles. It is an obligation of national governments and the European community to uphold it at all costs.
The nations of Europe have indeed succeeded in preventing another war, another catastrophe, yet across the continent conditions for Jews are worsening. In 2012, recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes increased by 30 percent year-on-year, ranging from physical violence to the vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries. This was not, as it has been in the past, a phenomenon linked to events in the Middle East, a revulsion at times of conflagration and unrest in Gaza or Lebanon. Rather, there has been an overall deterioration in the economic and political state of Europe, with Jews suffering disproportionately as a consequence.
It can be seen in the alarming rise of the far-right in eastern and southern Europe. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece and the radical populist Svoboda in Ukraine both experienced surges in popular electoral support in 2012, while in Hungary the ultra-nationalists Jobbik have used their platform in the National Assembly to single out their country’s Jews for special treatment, including the resurrection of old blood libels and the threat to draw up a list of Jews as a matter of national security.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, singled out Hungary as “experiencing the most worrying racist and anti-Semitic trends in Europe,” noting that “almost every week we witness an attack on minorities or outrageous comments from far-right and neo-Nazi politicians.” “These neo-Nazi parties have crossed all red lines on a continent,” Kantor added, “where we would hope never to see again an open-handed salute, swastika-like symbols and the demand for Jews to be listed.” Political anti-Semitism has forced Hungarian Jews to contemplate their future in Hungary, with families electing to leave for Austria to escape persecution.
It can also be seen in physical manifestations of extremist Muslim anti-Semitism, including the murder of a rabbi and three children at the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse in March 2012. Kantor noted that above all other nations, France experienced the most notable rise in hate crimes after that terror attack. “Rather than the Toulouse attacks being a shock to the system, they had the opposite effect and perhaps allowed terrorist groups in Europe to become more encouraged,” he said. “This simply demonstrates that anti-Semitism breeds anti-Semitism.” This was not only the case in France, where hate crimes rose 58 percent on 2011, but also Denmark and the United Kingdom.
And it can be seen in the delegitimisation of Israel, including most recently in the decision of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland to institute a blank academic boycott of the one and only Jewish state. Israel did not come into being solely because of the Holocaust, for Zionism as a philosophy and a movement has roots which extend deep into Jewish history and culture. But it is so that Israel exists as a internationalised, political solution to the Jewish question and as a refuge for those seeking to escape generations of anti-Semitic persecution in Europe and around the world. Regardless of political disagreement concerning the Palestinian problem, the existential security of Israel ought to be Europe’s consideration, because Israel is still an absolute necessity on the basis Herzl outlined at the end of the ninetieth century.
At 11 a.m. in Israel today, sirens sounded from Dan to Eilat as Israeli paused for two minutes in order to remember the lost of the Shoah. On the eve of Yom HaShoah, at a ceremony at Yad Vashem, President Peres remarked that “the map of Europe still contains local stains of anti-Semitism – not all the flames have been extinguished.” Europe’s foundations are constructed upon ashes and dust, and Peres’ words should be a reminder that if Europe neglects, if Europe forgets, if Europe turns away from Israel and its responsibility to the Jewish people then Europe as a project and as a society will have failed.