Think back to when you first read “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” (If you never did, you should.) Did you wonder what it would have been like to be Anne? What about what it would have meant to hide and protect Anne’s family?
Some people imagine they would have been part of The Righteous Among the Nations. They would have taken up arms and resisted the Nazis. Perhaps they say they would have hidden Anne Frank. But how many living today would really be so heroic?
No one should equate 2020 with the years 1933-45. However, as world leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, and the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation today, it’s worth clear-eyed consideration, because antisemitism, the ancient hatred that fueled the Holocaust, is resurgent right now.
It’s easy to brag about the principles and courage we might have displayed during the Holocaust. After all, the Nazis were vanquished 75 years ago, before most of us were even born. But even without the threat of Nazis knocking at the door, many people, including our leaders, find rebuking contemporary antisemitism and supporting living Jews notably difficult.
Take House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tweeted: “Today, our bipartisan Congressional Delegation visited Auschwitz-Birkenau to commemorate 75 years since liberation & reaffirm our commitment that the horrors of the Holocaust will never be repeated. Never Again.”
On its face, Pelosi’s tweet is totally unobjectionable. However, that commitment looks fairly flimsy after the past year. Recall that Pelosi’s House responded to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s antisemitic comments by condemning antisemitism as part of a lengthy list of hatreds. Condemning only antisemitism was a political non-starter for House Democrats.
That unwillingness to take the politically tougher stand carried over to the world’s only Jewish state in 2019. The House never took up their version of the Senate’s bill protecting state and local governments that prefer not to contract with supporters of the movement to boycott Israel. Instead, the House passed a lovely sounding but toothless resolution opposing efforts to boycott (only) Israel and watched as Omar introduced the first ever pro-boycott resolution, which has 18 co-sponsors.
While in Israel last week, French President Emmanuel Macron made headlines for yelling at Israeli police officers, who were seemingly trying to protect him. Macron insisted they respect “the rules” and stay outside as he visited a French-controlled church located inside Israel. Considering how many French Jews have fled to Israel for personal safety in recent years, and that a French court recently declined to prosecute an elderly Jewish woman’s murderer because he was high, Macron’s behavior felt callous. And lest anyone think Macron regretted the incident, French officials insisted, “There was no presidential apology.”
Prince Charles spoke in Jerusalem about his grandmother, Princess Alice, who is “counted as one of the Righteous among the Nations . . . a fact which gives me, and my family, immense pride.” He also rightly observed that “hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”
So it was disappointing to learn about Prince Charles’ scheduling preferences while in Israel. Charles, whose nation is trying to recover from Corbynized Labour’s massive antisemitism scandal, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has questioned the number of Jews exterminated in the Holocaust and victim-blamed Jews for the genocide. But Prince Charles didn’t meet with “British Israeli survivors of terrorism.”
The German ambassador to Israel deserves credit for acknowledging that she “feel[s] deep shame given the unspeakable crimes committed by Germans.” The German president also spoke movingly on Thursday about German responsibility for the Holocaust’s unspeakable crimes and the power of reconciliation, as well as acknowledging that antisemitism remains a German problem.
However, the government both German officials represent often fails to stand with Israel at the United Nations, refuses “to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.” Worst of all, Angela Merkel’s Germany has been loath to stop trading with Iran, which has never been coy about why they wish to become a nuclear power.
Times may change, but human nature doesn’t. Speaking up is hard, especially when it means standing alone. There’s a reason we typically revere the heroes of history who found the courage to chart their own course, including protecting those who were weaker or politically powerless.
In the case of the Holocaust and its obvious evil, it’s easy for anyone living today to insist they would’ve fought on the side of justice. But how many people flatter themselves?
Antisemitism has been resurgent in Europe since the turn of the century. It is also rising in the United States, where it has already turned deadly. The cost of condemning Jew hatred is lower now than it would have been in 1930s or 1940s Europe. Yet, even with those lower stakes, many people prefer to stay silent, abandoning their supposed friends and allies when their help — and their courage — is most needed.
If the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation is to be truly meaningful, we must show that we’ve all learned the lessons of the Holocaust. That includes a widespread willingness to condemn, quarantine, and fight antisemitism wherever we see it, whether right or left, at home or abroad. “Never again” cannot come with caveats.