News & Politics

The Few Remaining Holocaust Survivors: 'What Happens When We're Gone?'

FILE - The file picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945 shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp. (AP Photo)

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and across the world, people paused to remember the slaughter of the Jews during the reign of Adolf Hitler.

“Never Forget” may be the byword of the day, but in many parts of Europe, Muslim migrants, the far left, and far right are doing their best to revive the fears of Jewish citizens that they are not safe in their own countries.

ABC News:

The head of Warsaw’s Jewish community read a prayer and Tillerson made brief remarks about the importance of not forgetting the horrors of the Holocaust.

“On this occasion it reminds us that we can never, we can never, be indifferent to the face of evil,” Tillerson said.

“The western alliance which emerged from World War II has committed itself to the assuring the security of all, that this would never happen again,” he said. “As we mark this day in solemn remembrance, let us repeat the words of our own commitment: Never again. Never again.”

His words came amid signs in Europe and beyond that ultra-nationalism and extreme right-wing groups are on the rise.

In Germany and Austria, the nations that perpetrated the killing of 6 million Jews and millions of others during World War II, far-right parties with their roots in the Nazi era are gaining strength. The anti-migrant, anti-Muslim AfD party won seats in the German parliament for the first time last year, while in Austria the nationalist, anti-migrant Freedom Party is in the government.

Both parties have had issues with members making anti-Semitic remarks.

Even Poland — which was occupied and terrorized by Hitler’s regime — was convulsed this week by revelations of a fringe neo-Nazi group that honors Hitler. Other ultranationalist parties that espouse anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim views seem increasingly emboldened as well.

In Europe, that support is partially a backlash to the large influx of mostly Muslim migrants to Europe that peaked in 2015.

Some of those migrants, especially from Arab countries, have brought their own brand of anti-Semitism with them.

“Their own brand” of anti-Semitism? What “brand” is that? Hate is hate. There is no “brand” when it comes to Jew hatred. There is no difference in the hatred of Jews felt by a Muslim, a far-right neo-fascist, or a far-left pro-Palestinian “anti-Zionist.”

No difference. No brand. Just hate.

The rising tide of hate in Europe has some Holocaust survivors wondering what will happen when no one is left alive who lived the horror.

In the twilight of their lives, some survivors are increasingly anxious about the world they will leave behind, even with memorials and museums around the globe commemorating the slaughter. Far-right movements, many say, are no longer merely relics, and anti-Semitism has returned with a vigor few anticipated, especially in Europe.

“I’m extremely worried,” said Marceline Loridan-Ivens, a flame-haired 89-year-old filmmaker, writer and Holocaust survivor who has become something of a public conscience in France, where her memoirs are instant bestsellers. The latest installment, “L’Amour après” (“Love After”), published this month, recounts her experience in and after the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she was deported in 1944.

“All I can say is that everything I can write, everything I can unveil — it’s my task to do it,” she said, sitting in her apartment on the top floor of an old building in the tony Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

At the same time, she said, she is under no delusions about the power of public testimony to fend off another catastrophe, especially in a country where, in the most recent presidential election, 34 percent of voters ultimately backed a party founded by a convicted Holocaust denier and where incidents of anti-Semitic violence are common.

Just this month, in Paris, a kosher supermarket was firebombed. Last year, an Orthodox Jewish woman was killed in her bed by a neighbor who then hurled her body from the third-floor balcony of her Paris apartment. Prosecutors have demanded the killing be recognized as an anti-Semitic act.

Lumping far-right neo-fascists in with nationalists is easy for the European press. But it’s curious that the article didn’t mention the perpetrators of those crimes.

The Orthodox Jewish woman mentioned in the article, Sarah Halimi, was murdered by a Muslim neighbor screaming in Arabic as he threw her out the window. And the kosher supermarket in Paris was destroyed by fire on the third anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which included a siege involving Muslim terrorists at another kosher food store.

These “incidents” are just two of dozens of attacks in France, Germany, and other Western European countries where Muslim immigrants have brought their violent anti-Semitism with them.

France has Europe’s largest Jewish community and Jews have been targeted in several attacks in Paris in recent years:

  • A Jewish family was taken hostage, beaten and robbed by a gang in Livry-Gargan in September. One of the attackers told the victims “you’re Jews, so where’s the money?”, according to the family’s lawyer
  • Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jew, was killed in her apartment by a Muslim neighbour in April, in the 11th arrondissement (district)
  • Two Jewish brothers were injured and racially abused in a street attack in Seine-Saint-Denis in February
  • In January 2015, an Islamist gunman killed three customers and an employee at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in the east of Paris, in the aftermath of the assault on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine
  • In December 2014, three armed burglars broke into a Jewish home in Créteil and tied up a young man and his girlfriend, whom they raped
  • A gang kidnapped and tortured Ilan Halimi, 23, in January 2006, then left him to die near Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois station. Gang leader Youssouf Fofana was given life imprisonment in 2009

But why blame Muslims when the far-right neo-fascists can easily be substitute villains? And why is there no mention at all in any of these stories about the far-left pro-Palestinians who claim they are only “anti-Zionists”? 

The anti-Judaism of Islamic extremists both in the Middle East and migrant communities is a rising concern, as are the creeping tendencies in some European nations to restrict the rights of their remaining Jewish citizens.

However, it is the increasing acceptance and elevation of anti-Zionists across the world that is cause for particular concern. Those who deny the Jewish people, and only the Jewish people, the right to live in freedom and security in their homeland are routinely paraded as the picture of progressive politics.

When nations like Iran arm their bigotry with ballistic missile programs and powerful proxies like Hezbollah, they can expect acquiescence and appeasement from much of the world.

There is something to be said for seeing the quiet dignity of Holocaust survivors in their 90s and older still pleading that we don’t forget what happened to them, their families, their neighbors, and their friends when an entire continent — not just the Nazis — participated in an orgy of anti-Semitism. Instead of “Never Forget,” there are many in Europe today who should substitute “Trying Not to Remember.”