On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the fight against anti-Semitism continues

Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah in Hebrew. Each year we at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews take this opportunity not only to pause and memorialize the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, but also to turn commemoration into action.

We bring food, medical care and other support to more than 110,000 impoverished Holocaust survivors and elderly Jews across the former Soviet Union, and to tens of thousands more survivors in Israel. And we urge others to help us reach other aging, struggling survivors around the world.

With 40 survivors dying daily worldwide, we’re racing against the clock to ensure that all poor survivors can live their final days in dignity, without being forced to decide each day between eating or paying for life-saving medicine or between electricity and home care.

Yet Yom HaShoah this year seems markedly different. While we have seen radical nationalism and xenophobia make inroads across Europe for years, most decent-minded people everywhere have condemned such extremism, along with the rise of violence against Jews, Muslims and other minorities.

This year, though, we are seeing a new normalization and acceptability of anti-Semitism – or at least a new permissiveness, where outright anti-Semitism is poisoning the public sphere. It’s surely no coincidence that at the same time, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are still alive to speak out against this re-emerging evil, thereby emboldening the haters to re-emerge.

In llinois’ 3rd Congressional District, near where our U.S. office is based, a onetime figure from the lunatic fringe, Holocaust denier and former American Nazi Party member Arthur Jones, 70, is running unopposed as the Republican candidate in a district that is historically so Democratic that no legitimate Republican bothered to run.

To its credit, the Illinois Republican Party is opposing Jones. State Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said:  “Arthur Jones is not a real Republican – he is a Nazi whose disgusting bigoted views have no place in our nation’s discourse.”

At the same time, the legislature in Poland supported a new law that went into effect in early March making it illegal to say that Poland or Poles were in any way “responsible or co-responsible” for the Holocaust. Israel has officially protested the move, and many have denounced it as an attempt to whitewash history – the fact that 3 million Polish Jews (and another 3 million Polish non-Jews) were murdered in six death camps on German-occupied Polish soil.

While Poland’s president and others have denied the charge of whitewashing, this new law has given way to rank anti-Semitic rhetoric.

A leading TV commentator called Jews “kikes” on Twitter, later deleting the post. The director of a state-run TV station said, on-air, that Nazi death camps should actually be called “Jewish” because “who managed the crematoria there?” The Associated Press reported.

Polish journalist Bogdan Zalewski declared on Facebook: “Poles, we are at war! We are at war with the Jews! Not for the first time in our history.”

All of this underscores the sense that we are entering a new era of open anti-Semitism, where it is not just camouflaged in the guise of anti-Zionism, but one in which heads of state, elected officials, media and political candidates frame the parameters of public dialogue, and hate speech against Jews is normalized.

Sadly, as history has shown us, this is just the first step in what often leads to something much worse.

This Holocaust Remembrance Day, as we continue to deliver life-saving assistance to needy aging survivors as part of our mission to act and remember, we do so with the bitter knowledge that fewer and fewer survivors are here today to speak out against this revived anti-Semitism. The newly vocal anti-Semites are freed to spew their poison.

And on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, we ought to move from commemorating to acting: speaking out, advocating, organizing, and helping the few survivors remaining with us today, many of whom are still struggling to survive. Their survival is a blatant reminder to the world of what happens when hate speech goes unchallenged and when apathy becomes the norm.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein founded The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews, and build broad support for Israel.