Eighty-two years ago yesterday, Nazis and their rulers in Germany and Austria razed over 1,400 synagogues to the ground, smashed windows, looted over 7,500 Jewish stores and murdered nearly 100 Jews in a violent pogrom known as the “Kristallnacht” – or “Night of Broken Glass”.
In the weeks that followed, some 30,000 Jews were transported to concentration camps in a harrowing prelude to the further evil that was to follow.
Kristallnacht was a murderous example of people’s ability to escalate from indifference, demonization, and segregation of a group of people – in this case Jews – to violence. First through words and through dehumanization, and then through the Nazi infrastructure of death.
Today, this segregation of Jews – and subsequently the Jewish state, including through nefarious attempts to boycott Israel – represents a collective form of amnesia, indifference and deliberate disregard for history. This suggests that many have indeed learned very little from history.
As the great philosopher George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
For some, the phrase “never again” may be nothing more than an empty slogan. But not for the Jewish people, the Jewish state or those with a pure moral conscience.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel begged us to “take sides” and warned: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the torturer, never the tortured”.
This week it is imperative that we not only remember our Jewish brothers and sisters who were murdered by the Nazi death machine on Kristallnacht, but also remember that so many of their fellow citizens stood idly by – many of them cheered as accomplices in the greatest act of evil in modern history.
Remembrance is essential, but it is not enough.
We must raise our voice. We must raise our voices. We must never remain indifferent to such hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism.
In order to combat this oldest and most enduring hatred, we must first be able to recognize and proclaim it. This includes the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) all-encompassing definition of anti-Semitism, which refers not only to traditional hatred of Jews, but also to its manifestations today, such as the delegitimization of Israel and attacks on Zionism, disguised as legitimate criticism.
Dozens of countries from all over Europe and the world have adopted the IHRA definition, most recently Bahrain, which was also the first Arab country to courageously adopt it.
Quite simply, if we cannot define what we are trying to defeat, how can we defeat it?
We must also invest in education, focusing not only on the history of anti-Semitism, modern racism and the Holocaust, but also on the immense contributions that the Jewish people and Jewish texts have made to society.
As Nelson Mandela stated in his 1994 autobiography: “No one is born to hate another person because of the color of his skin, his origin or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”.
We must also recognize that racial hatred is not an exclusively Jewish problem and that what begins with the Jews rarely ends with the Jews. Today, other minorities are increasingly denigrated, and instead of embracing “the other” we increasingly avoid our fellow citizens. Jews have a duty, based on our history and experience alone, to stand up for the oppressed in the broader struggle for racial equality and tolerance.
Finally, the modern expression of anti-Semitism must also be seen through the lens of today’s digital age, in which hatred of Jews and even denial of the Holocaust is spreading at an uncontrollable rate.
Some social media giants like Facebook have made the fundamental decision to ban material that denies or distorts the Holocaust. But in a recent Senate hearing, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, inexplicably claimed that denying the Holocaust should not be considered “misinformation” in the sense of the company’s hate speech policy.
At the same time, at a hearing on online anti-Semitism in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) earlier this year, an open-faced Twitter representative told me that the calls by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei for genocide of Is