Julien Klener, a child survivor of the Holocaust who is now president of Belgium’s Jewish community, spoke at the Yom HaShoah commemoration, April 15, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. His talk was titled, “70 Years after the Shoah: Is Europe Safe for Jews?” and it was a sad and frightening picture he painted.
Calling attention to recent events in France, Belgium and Denmark, events in which Jews were murdered for no other reason than that they were Jewish, he said, “Europe is – was – a killing field for Jews.”
Yes, 70 years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism remains a scourge that will not go away. And, whether it is manifested in horrific terrorist incidents such as the attacks on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket near Paris in January or the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels last year or in smaller incidents like nasty graffiti painted on a synagogue, it is always disturbing.
Three years ago, on a visit to Italy, I was taken aback to see soldiers – not security guards, not police, but soldiers – standing guard in front of the Jewish nursing home and a nearby Jewish school in Milan. This was just a few months after four people – a rabbi and three children – were murdered at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France. That attack, the killer said, was an act of revenge. “The Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine,” he said.
In the face of this surging anti-Semitism, the question is asked – as seen in Klener’s topic – whether Europe is a safe home for Jews.
The manifestation of violent anti-Semitism plaguing Europe today is very different from the situation faced by European Jews in the years leading to the Holocaust, when centuries of classical anti-Judaism marked by pogroms, ghettoization, denial of citizenship, or expulsion rooted in church doctrine and government policy led to the rise of the Nazi government in Germany and, ultimately, to the Holocaust.
In today’s Europe, governments stand firmly and unequivocally against anti-Semitism.
In February, French President François Hollande told the Jewish community, “Jews are at home in France; it’s the anti-Semites who have no place in the republic. In protecting its Jews, the republic is protecting itself.”
And, just today – I write on April 17 – there was a news report published on our website – www.ottawajewishbulletin.com – that the French government had just allocated an additional $107 million to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.
And there have been other stories of national leaders standing firm against anti-Semitism in other European countries where these incidents have occurred.
Few, if any, of the recent violent manifestations of anti-Semitism in Europe have been perpetrated by classic European anti-Semites. Sadly, as seen in the Toulouse school shootings, in the Hyper Cacher attack, in the Brussels museum attack, in the Copenhagen synagogue attack, etc., they are being committed by a small number of individuals and cells with similar ideologies to the ISIS terrorists looking to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East, or the Hamas terrorists who have indiscriminately aimed rockets at communities like Sderot from behind schools in Gaza, or the Iranian leaders who call for the destruction of Israel while denying or mocking the Holocaust.
Klener did not have an answer as to whether Jews have a future in Europe. And, while there have been reports of increased European aliyah to Israel in the past year – indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has encouraged aliyah in response to European anti-Semitism – many European Jewish leaders are encouraging Jewish communities to stay and ensure their futures.
Clearly, though, this is a time of great concern for European Jewry, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming months and years.