Guest commentary: Observing Holocaust Remembrance Day
By DIANE GOTTHEIL and CAROL MIZRAHI
Yom Ha Shoah, Hebrew for Holocaust Remembrance Day, will be observed today, April 7. It is the day that Jews have designated to commemorate the great tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust against humanity of which Jews were the primary victims. The intent of Hitler's state-run program was to exterminate the Jewish people in its entirety as well as other peoples it deemed "undesirable."
Why do we remember?
— To honor the memory of the 6 million who died.
— "To warn others that the distance between hatred and murder and racism and genocide is short." (Moshe Katzav, President of Israel)
— To develop our own capacity for acts of courage, heroism, and self-sacrifice.
— To educate future generations, far removed from this unprecedented horror. In another ten years, witnesses (liberators and survivors) to the Holocaust will all be gone.
There are some who criticize the Jews for remembering. They say that the Holocaust is, after all, past history and the world is now a kinder, gentler place where such unspeakable atrocities could never again happen.
It is now 70 years since the Holocaust and already the taboo against anti-Semitism has ended. Across Europe, in many of the same countries complicit in the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Recent surveys of European attitudes toward Jews found disturbingly high levels of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism doesn't always end with attitudes. It is often where violence begins.
In 2012 more than 600 anti-Semitic events — bodily violence to Jews and/or to Jewish property or institutions — were reported in England, a 48 percent increase over 2011 and a record high.
Last year in France, three Jewish schoolchildren and a Rabbi were murdered by an Islamic extremist. This heinous act was followed by 10 days of 90 additional attacks against Jews and Jewish property. Anti-Semitic incidents in France increased 58 percent in 2012, and a survey of French Jews found that because of the rise of anti-Semitism, 25 percent plan to leave France this year. Thousands more have already made their exodus.
In the Ukraine there have been dozens of recent physical attacks against Jews. Signs hanging in public places that read "Death to the Jews" is not an uncommon sight. In Denmark, the government recently passed a law forbidding Jews to wear kippahs (skullcaps) in public, curtailing the religious freedom of Orthodox Jews to cover their heads at all times.
In Holland, a Dutch-Moslem researcher published a paper which concluded that there is "systematic anti-Semitism among Moslems living in the Netherlands." His findings are well-supported by displays of posters and banners that read "Down with Judaism," and anti-Semitic slogans spray-painted on public buildings.
In Hungary, Jewish university professors found the following notices posted on their office doors: "Jews, the University is ours, not yours."
The old European style of anti-Semitism is back, now coupled with a new version as preached and practiced by Islamic extremists. Most unfortunate is that there are few counter-prevailing forces to fight this incendiary movement. The European Union and the media gloss over or deny that there is violence against Jews, Jewish properties and Jewish institutions, while some representatives of "respectable" governments once again feel comfortable making the most virulent anti-Semitic remarks in public forums. The police, following the lead set by their governments, often look the other way. The outcome: anti-Semites feel increasingly safe attacking their Jewish fellow-citizens.
Genocide, anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination are not dead. The world at large has a shared responsibility to remember the Shoah. In the words of George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Diane Gottheil is a resident of Urbana and Carol Mizrahi resides in Champaign.