Once Again, Everything Is At Stake For Europe And Her Jews

The latest deadly anti-Semitic terror attack happened to come in a city that once heroically saved most of its Jewish citizens from the Nazis. What's the lesson for today?

Inside and outside Copenhagen's Great Synagogue
Inside and outside Copenhagen's Great Synagogue
Jacques Schuster

BERLIN — The Islamist terror continues, but rest assured that we will defeat it. But first, we must dispense with our indifference towards anti-Semitism. Democracy in Europe is at stake.

When Denmark fell under the power of the infamous Swastika of Nazi Germany in April 1940, Germans sought to cleanse the small country of its Jewish population just as it had done elsewhere in German-occupied Europe. And just as in France, Belgium and Poland, these Jews were to be branded before their deportation.

But according to legend, this plan was foiled by the Danish monarch, Christian X. The King was said to have donned a yellow arm band, and walked the streets of Copenhagen followed by hundreds of Danes who followed his example. No German was to know who in Copenhagen was Jewish and who was not.

Christian X of Denmark in Copenhagen during the German occupation, in 1940 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This story is only partially true, as many Danes in Copenhagen did in fact wear the yellow arm band, though the king did not. But history tells us that a majority of Danish Jews were indeed saved from the concentration camps by their fellow countrymen in October 1943. Under severe fog, and risking their own lives, they shipped some 7,000 Jewish citizens to neutral Sweden, using all of the nation's fishing boats.

Back then all Danes were Jews and all Jews were Danes.

But what about today? The ghost of anti-Semitism moves through the European Union with increasing brazenness. It murders in a Paris kosher supermarket and outside a Copenhagen synagogue. It is also raising its ugly head in Germany and rips off its mask to show its hideous face in Belgium.

Everyone is horrified when people die, as in Paris last month or last weekend in Denmark. But what if the consequences of small acts of anti-Semitism don't necessarily attract our attention? Europeans prefer an undisturbed slumber, oblivious to the constant rise of anti-Semitic acts of violence over the years. Many wonder why we should be bothered with the Jews, especially considering everything going on in Israel.

Starting with Germans

Much of the outward anti-Semitism in Europe today, and clearly the most dangerous, comes from those with a Muslim-Arabic background. But the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the majority of society is also fodder for anti-Semitism!

Just as in Denmark 75 years ago, so it should resound in Europe today: All Europeans are Jews, all Jews are Europeans. Those who attack them, as in Copenhagen, those who horrify them by screaming "Gas the Jews," those who injure and humiliate them as they did in Berlin last year — they attack each and every single European. Every German, Briton, Belgian and French.

Those familiar with the Jewish religion know that besides monotheism, freedom is an absolutely integral part of it. This monotheism and freedom have become part of Western culture. Those who attack Jews in Europe may well want to kill them, and all other Jews, but they also attack precisely this freedom for which the Jews stand, and which these assassins abhor.

This freedom, however, is everyone's freedom. Those who tolerate an attack on freedom are undermining the very foundations on which it stands.

If this foundation is brittle, tolerance and democracy go out the window. Human dignity — say, that of a woman or gay person in an open society — would be obliterated, as would the belief in the "blessing of compromise" as a basic requirement for peaceful cohabitation or the joie de vivre of the free-market economy.

Instead, the huge burden of slavery, tangible in all authoritarian regimes, would be lowered onto our dispossessed shoulders. In addition to this, a new ideal, found in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, found in Syria and Iraq under ISIS, would dominate: the impulse to kill and cause death and despair. But, tragically, this can already be felt in France, Denmark and Belgium.

If the assassin had been successful in getting into the synagogue where bar miztvah festivities were happening over the weekend, 80 people would have been killed just because a young man was celebrating his inclusion in adult society with his friends and relatives.

A new fascism

"Long live death" was a fascist slogan that circulated freely until 1945. This has been adopted by Islamists and Islamo-fascists all over the world. Thank goodness they don't represent a majority among worldwide Muslim communities. But as in many cases a minority, especially a determined, loud and brutal minority, is able to silence or even subjugate a majority.

The Muslim majority has to stand up to this. First steps have been taken but are too timid to be successful. Those who attack Jews, those who threaten schoolchildren and kill cartoonists, those who think that they must enforce Muslim values as state doctrine, those who do not want to acknowledge that their faith does not entitle them to more rights — may it be Christian, Jewish or atheist — do not belong in Europe. No freedom for freedom's foes, zero tolerance towards zero tolerance!

Democracy has to be able to defend itself, with political, police or military means. But above all it needs to defend itself through its society. Our society has had to accept that responsibility since Sept. 11, 2001, though not always in the best ways.

But one ability the West possesses, in contrast to the many authoritarian societies of the Near and Far East, not to mention the Islamic terror cells and lone assassins, is the ability to question and be critical of itself, to correct its mistakes. One certain mistake has been identified already: an indifference towards certain Islamist attacks that may not have made headlines. This can and must be reversed immediately.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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