Editorial: Estonia needs to tackle anti-Semitism before it’s too late

Generally, not much coverage of Estonia:

For the small Estonian Jewish community, times have been peaceful – but recent anti-Semitic acts are a reason for concern.

Over the weekend of 22-23 June, several headstones at the 110-year old Rahumäe Jewish cemetery in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, were knocked over. On 23 June, swastikas were spray-painted on large stones by the Lille bus stop in Tallinn’s Kristiine district.

“On 23 June, when all of Estonia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the victory of Estonian troops over the Baltic Landeswehr (Baltic German troops during the Estonian War of Independence – editor) near Võnnu, there were two extremely outrageous incidents in Tallinn,” the Jewish Community of Estonia wrote on its Facebook page on 24 June.

“This monstrous act of vandalism at a place where our ancestors rest in peace, where every human being thinks about spirituality, their connection to past generations and human values, is offensive, frightening and unacceptable in our society,” the Estonian Jewish Community and the Estonian Jewish Congregation said in a statement.

The community added that the act of vandalism was the first at the Jewish cemetery – it was not defiled even during the Nazi occupation of Estonia (from 1941-1944 – editor).

According to Alla Jakobson, the chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish Community, it is hard to believe that these malicious actions were organised specifically during the holidays in Estonia (when the country celebrates Victory Day, Midsummer Eve and Midsummer Day – or St John’s Day). “It is hoped that it was just a very unfortunate coincidence,” she said in a statement.

“We honour the memory of the deceased and would like society to show understanding and mutual respect for the memory of the people who lost their ancestors in that country. I am convinced the [police] investigation will identify those whose behaviour caused sorrow and pain,” Jakobson added.

The Jewish Community of Estonia added that “such acts of vandalism and the spray-painted swastikas in public places are a direct reference to the tragic [historical] events. We hope [these events] will never happen again. Not in Estonia, or in any other country.”

Several incidents in a row causing a concern

The latest anti-Semitic acts follow the incident in March, when a 27-year-old Estonian man aggressively shouted at the country’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Kot, on the street: “What are you staring at, Jew? You’re going into the oven.” The man also shouted “Sieg Heil” and “Heil Hitler” at Kot while the rabbi was walking to Tallinn’s synagogue with two of his children, aged seven and 12. The police later identified the abuser, arrested him – and he was sentenced to eight days in prison.

According to Kot, this kind of an incident was the first time two of his children had witnessed any such harassment.

In August 2018, unidentified individuals vandalised the Holocaust memorials at Kalevi-Liiva in Estonia’s Harju County. Thousands of Jews perished there during the Nazi occupation of Estonia, from 1941-1944. The memorials were spray-painted with swastikas, anti-Semitic and Nazi messages.

6, when Estonian World spoke to Rabbi Kot, he told us Estonia was a very peaceful, calm and good country for Jews. Therefore, the latest developments cause a serious concern – and in the light of far-right gains in the last parliamentary election in March, beg the question whether an anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise in Estonia.

A troubled history, but mostly tolerant country for Jews

Like many European countries, Estonia may have had a fair bit of troubled history with anti-Semitism, but for the most part of its existence, it has been regarded as a tolerant country for Jews.

From the very first days of its existence as a state in 1918, Estonia showed tolerance towards all the peoples inhabiting her territories. In 1925, the Act of Cultural Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities was enacted in Estonia, giving minority groups consisting of at least 3,000 individuals the right of self-determination in cultural matters. Thus, in 1926, the Jewish cultural autonomy was declared – first of its kind in the world. For its tolerant policy towards Jews, even a page was dedicated to the Republic of Estonia in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund in 1927.

Sadly, the history took a wrong turn. With the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, Jewish cultural autonomy, in addition to the activities of Jewish organisations, was terminated. All Jewish schools were closed and 414 Estonian Jews (10 per cent of the Jewish community) were deported to Siberia in the course of the mass deportations of June 1941.

Worse was to come. During the German occupation, the Nazis murdered approximately 1,000 Jews who had failed to flee Estonia (most had escaped to the Soviet Union before the Nazi occupation). In addition, about 10,000 Jews were transported to Nazi concentration camps in Estonia from other parts of Europe. Only a handful of them survived.

During the second Soviet occupation (1944–1991), many Jews migrated to Estonia again to escape the anti-Semitism prevalent in many parts of the Soviet Union. After the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991, the local Jewish cultural life was reinvigorated again and the community of about 2,500 people has generally thrived since. In 2007, a new synagogue was opened in Tallinn – the first synagogue to open in Estonia since the Second World War.

Let’s keep Estonia an educated and tolerant country

This publication calls the Estonian society and institutions to take the anti-Semitic incidents seriously – it’s important to tackle the hatred and prejudice and cut it at its roots. More education is needed about the Holocaust – there is sadly still too much ignorance and denial about the genocide that also took place in Estonia, among many European countries.

The local media – and especially the country’s public broadcasting, ERR – could also highlight the positive contribution of thousands of Estonian Jews throughout the history, which has benefitted not just Estonia, but also the world. From Louis Kahn to Eri Klas, from Yuri Lotman to Eino Baskin, many Estonian Jews have made Estonia and the world a better place.

Until recently, Estonia stood out positively as a place where Jews could live in peace and thrive – let’s keep it that way.

Source: Editorial: Estonia needs to tackle anti-Semitism before it’s too late

Canada adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism

Another pre-election announcement. The sensitive part of the non-legally binding working definition concerns criticism of Israel.

Comparable issues arise in any definition of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hate between the relatively easy definitions of discriminatory behaviour or hate against Muslims and criticism of Islam itself:

Canada’s government announced on Tuesday that it will formally adopt the widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as part of the country’s anti-racism initiative.

“To help address resurgent anti-Semitism in Canada, we’re adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism as part of our strategy,” said Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.

Canada joined the IHRA is 2009 and is one of 32 member states.

The IHRA definition says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Jewish groups applauded Rodriguez’s announcement.

“Peddlers of anti-Semitism must be held accountable, but this can only happen if authorities can clearly and consistently identify acts of Jew-hatred,” said Joel Reitman, co-chair of the board of directors at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

“This is why CIJA has been calling on all three levels of government to use the (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism,” he continued. “The IHRA definition, which has been adopted by dozens of democratic countries, is a vital tool in countering the global rise in anti-Semitism.”

“Canada adopting IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is an important symbolic and declaratory move,” said NGO Monitor founder and president Gerald Steinberg. “We hope that the next steps will pertain to its implementation within Canadian policy, including regarding Canadian international aid and support of NGOs.”

B’nai Brith Canada labeled the IHRA standard “the most universally accepted and expertly driven definition of anti-Semitism available today,” and one that “enjoys unprecedented consensus.”

Some 392,000 Jews reside in Canada, or 1 percent of the overall population.

Overall, 2,041 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada were reported in 2018—a 16.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

Incidents of vandalism decreased from 327 to 221, as violent anti-Semitic attacks also dropped, from 16 in 2017 to 11 in 2018.

Source: Canada adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism

UK: How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour

Valid approach that applies more broadly that antisemitism/anti-Zionism. But hard to implement as it requires some compartmentalization:

An announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that it is launching a formal investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party is one more sign that the controversy cannot be addressed by internal procedures alone. Was it ever solvable through the party’s own efforts? There was a time when I thought it might be.

Even before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party in September 2015, there was deep disquiet in sections of the British Jewish community about what was perceived as his tolerance for Islamist terrorist groups. Following his election, repeated instances of antisemitic comments in the burgeoning Corbynite grassroots further stoked alarm. The attempted coup against Corbyn’s leadership in June 2016 deepened the problem, with non-Corbynite Jewish party members (and those within the Jewish Labour Movement in particular) becoming the focus of anger from some who supported Corbyn’s transformation of the party.

There has been no shortage of efforts to address this situation. There was the Chakrabarti inquiry in June 2016 and repeated statements by Corbyn and others condemning antisemitism. There have been meetings, both confidential and announced, between Jewish communal leaders and the Labour leadership. There have been rule changes and bureaucratic restructuring intended to improve the party’s disciplinary procedures.

For years I’ve been advocating dialogue as a way to address the crisis generated by antisemitism within Labour. For a long time my working assumption was that hardcore, unrepentant, unredeemable antisemites in the party were a tiny minority, but there was a much bigger group that fell into antisemitic language occasionally or out of ignorance. The first group could not be dialogued out of existence – only expelled – but the larger group might be open to education. What was crucial was to engage those Corbynites who had no history of antisemitism and might be able to exert influence on others. I did have some hope that, through hard work and trust-building, it might be possible to reach some kind of understanding between those who lead the Labour party and Jews concerned about antisemitism.

Not only has nothing worked, but efforts to fix things have themselves deepened the controversy. Meetings between Corbyn and Jewish community leaders have been tenseand incomprehending affairs. Institutional investigations and reforms are either seen as a whitewash from the Jewish side (as with the Chakrabarti report) or as an unacceptable compromise with them (as in the 2018 adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism by the Labour party national executive committee).

Now, with Jewish support for Labour dropping like a stone and accusations that the party is institutionally antisemitic, antisemitism in the party has not gone away and the political dispute over it is worse than ever. There is no reason to think that the EHRC will end the dispute, whatever its findings – things are just too far gone for that.

So what next? There is a way back, but it’s going to take a radical rethinking of what anti-racism means.

We got into this mess in the first place because sections of the left have never been able to reconcile themselves to the fact that the majority of British Jews are Zionists in some shape or form, either self-identifying as such or supporting the principle of Israel as a Jewish state. That fundamental bewilderment, that sense that Jews should know better, has been combined with a love of that significant minority of Jews who are not Zionists. Groups such as the Corbyn-supporting Jewish Voice for Labour, which is largely made up of Jews who reject Zionism, tacitly encourage the sentiment: “Why can’t all Jews be like that?”

Given that the divisions between Jewish Zionists and anti-Zionists are very much out in the open, it is all too easy to pick and choose the Jews one listens to and to damn the rest.

I am not one of those Jews who would argue that members of Jewish Voice for Labour are not really Jews and should be shunned by non-Jews. But there is no way around the fact that, intentionally or unintentionally, they encourage the fantasy that all you need to do to oppose antisemitism is to draw close to those Jews with whom you are in sympathy. This fantasy has exposed under-discussed questions about how anti-racism should express solidarity with minorities who are subjected to racism: what happens when those minorities, or significant sections of them, hold to politics with which you don’t agree? And what happens when those minorities treat those politics as non-negotiable parts of their identity?

Too often, anti-racism on sections of the left is predicated on wilful ignorance about what the victims of racism actually believe. Jews have a way of forcing the issue: our overwhelming (but by no means total) embrace of Zionism has been so public that it cannot be avoided. This has presented a quandary to those who see themselves as supporters of the Palestinians: how can the victims of racism be racists themselves? The way out of that has sometimes been to deny that Jews today constitute a group that can suffer racism at all (other than perhaps at the hand of good old-fashioned Nazis); we have been subsumed into white privilege. The result has been that progressive movements increasingly find it difficult to include Jews who do not renounce Zionism, as the controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Women’s March in the US has shown.

The only way out of this impasse is to recast anti-racist solidarity so that it is completely decoupled from political solidarity. Anti-racism must become unconditional, absolute, and not requiring reciprocity. Anti-racism must be explicitly understood as fighting for the right of minorities to pursue their own political agendas, even if they are abhorrent to you. Anti-racism requires being scrupulous in how one talks or acts around those one might politically despise.

This isn’t just an issue that applies to Jews and antisemitism. We are beginning to see the strains in other forms of anti-racism too, when minorities start becoming politically awkward. The opposition from some British Muslim groups to teaching LGBT issues in school is one example of this. Yet opposition to Islamophobia is as vital as opposition to homophobia and one must not be sacrificed on the altar of the other.

The anti-racism that I suggest is a kind of self-sacrifice. Anti-racists must acknowledge but restrain how they really feel about those who must be defended against racism. Doing so involves a constant balancing act: supporting the right for Zionist Jews to live free from abuse and harassment while, at the same time, fighting for the right of Palestinians to live free from oppression. Creating that balance involves teeth-gritting; choosing not to pursue the most unbridled forms of political warfare when it involves ethno-religious minorities such as Jews.

It sounds like a horrible, frustrating and maddening process. But who said that anti-racism was going to be easy? Well, it isn’t easy and the fantasy that it is got us into this predicament in the first place.

This, then, is what a solution to the Labour party antisemitism crisis will have to look like, now that dialogue and conflict resolution have proved to be dead ends: an acknowledgment from the anti-Zionist left that anti-racist solidarity with those seen as despicable Zionist Jews must be unconditional. This is what I call “sullen solidarity” – and it is the most powerful form of solidarity there is.

Paradoxically, the first step in cultivating this sullen solidarity should be restraining love for those Jews with whom one is most in sympathy. The Labour leadership needs to stop its repeated expressions of support for particular Jewish traditions; its Passover messages about social justice and its invocations of the battle of Cable Street. As a leftwing Israel-critical Jew, I myself honour and respect some of the traditions with which Corbyn empathises, but I don’t need my way of being Jewish to be validated by anyone. Anti-racism should not be a reward for being culturally interesting or politically sympathetic; it should require no justification.

I am totally uninterested in whether the Labour leadership like Jews or what sort of Jews they like. I care only that they will refrain from expressing love for certain kinds of Jews and distrust of others, and that they will defend all of us from antisemitism, however unlikable they might find us.

Source: How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour

Antisemitism: Spell it Without the Hyphen-Please

Uphill struggle but I always use the correct spelling (and urge others to do the same):

Antisemitism should be spelled without the hyphen. It’s something I’ve known for years, even if auto-correct just won’t get the message. Neither will the media, of course, or even most dictionaries.

“What’s the difference?” you might well ask. “It’s just a little mark on the page. Meaningless.”

Ah, but it’s not.

The concept of “antisemitism” (without the dash, thank you) and the term, were introduced by Wilhelm Marr when he founded the Die Antisemitenliga, the League of Antisemites, in 1879. Materials put out by the league often employed the word “antisemitism.” The league, in fact, was the first popular political movement based solely on anti-Jewish sentiment. Marr’s famous and oft-reprinted tract, The Victory of Judaism Over Germandom, made the claim that “the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness have overpowered the world.”

Statutes of the Antisemitism League flanked by two of Marr’s antisemitic tracts

Marr wore the title “antisemite” as a badge of honor. From the perspective of Marr and his colleagues, to be an antisemite was to be “woke.” But then, politics with a specifically anti-Jewish flavor and focus were big all over Europe in the years leading up to the 20th century.

The word “antisemitism” had its roots in an 18th-century treatise on languages which analyzed the differences between Aryan and Semitic languages. The terminology that was used led to the false assumption that there were racial groups corresponding to these two groups of languages. The minds of the time made a leap so that “Jew” became synonymous with “semite” in the lexicon of the day.

The interesting thing here is that there was already the perfectly good expression Judenhass, or “Jew hate,” in the popular lexicon. But Marr wanted to make his hatred about race, rather than religion. The new term he coined avoided altogether the question of religion. “Antisemitism” also sounded more scientific, more intellectual, therefore more credible and more acceptable. Also, people just liked it. So the word “antisemitismus” spread like wildfire as a new way to speak about hating the Jews.

But the thing is, there’s no such thing as a “semite” or even a “semitic” people. The terms were invented by some historians in the 1770s to refer to people who speak Semitic languages But in truth, there are only Semitic languages. There is no race or people that are “semites.”

In other words, when you spell the word with a hyphen, the word makes no sense. Because you can’t be against something that doesn’t exist. And there’s no such thing as a semite.

The other problem is that people say that Arabs are semites, too, therefore Arabs can’t be antisemites, because they can’t be against themselves.

Except there’s no such thing as a semite.

The term antisemite, you see, is standalone. It only means “someone who hates Jews.” And that is all it was ever intended to mean.

Antisemitism, as a term, is based on racist claptrap. The word was lifted from the field of linguistics to give weight to the idea of hating the Jews (and only the Jews) as a race (which they aren’t). The pseudoscientific sound of the term gave it loft and validity. Which is stupid.

To be clear: Jews aren’t semites. Neither are Arabs.

Antisemites hate Jews, not Arabs.

So when you use the hyphen you’re unwittingly espousing turn of the century European racism. You’re also ignorant of history. If Marr had meant to include Arabs he would have spelled the word he invented with a hyphen to include them.

Historians, at least those who care about academic rigor, are careful to spell the word without the hyphen. But the media continues to hyphenate the word. And spell-check and the auto-correct function of Word just won’t get the message. Historian Shmuel Almog, in fact, wrote about the problem with the hyphen all the way back in 1989:

“So the hyphen, or rather its omission, conveys a message; if you hyphenate your ‘anti-Semitism’, you attach some credence to the very foundation on which the whole thing rests. Strike out the hyphen and you will treat antisemitism for what it really is—a generic name for modern Jew-hatred which now embraces this phenomenon as a whole, past, present and—I am afraid—future as well.”

Source: Antisemitism: Spell it Without the Hyphen-Please – The Jewish Press

The New German Anti-Semitism

Good long and disturbing read:

One of Wenzel Michalski’s early recollections of growing up in southern Germany in the 1970s was of his father, Franz, giving him some advice: “Don’t tell anyone that you’re Jewish.” Franz and his mother and his little brother had survived the Holocaust by traveling across swaths of Eastern and Central Europe to hide from the Gestapo, and after the war, his experiences back in Germany suggested that, though the Nazis had been defeated, the anti-Semitism that was intrinsic to their ideology had not. This became clear to Franz when his teachers in Berlin cast stealthily malicious glances at him when Jewish characters — such as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” — came up in literature. “Eh, Michalski, this exactly pertains to you,” he recalls one teacher telling him through a clenched smile. Many years later, when he worked as an animal-feed trader in Hamburg, he didn’t tell friends that he was Jewish and held his tongue when he heard them make anti-Semitic comments. And so Franz told his son Wenzel that things would go easier for him if he remained quiet about being Jewish. “The moment you say it, things will become very awkward.”

As a teenager, Wenzel defied his father’s advice and told a close friend. That friend quickly told his mother, and the next time Wenzel saw her, she reacted quite strongly, hugging him and kissing his face: “Wenzel! Oh, my Wenzel!” Now a stocky, bearded 56-year-old, Wenzel recalled the moment to me on a recent Saturday afternoon. He raised the pitch of his voice as he continued to mimic her: “You people! You are the most intelligent! The most sensitive! You are the best pianists in the world! And the best poets!” In his normal voice again, he added, “Then I understood what my father meant.”

Wenzel Michalski is now the director of Human Rights Watch for Germany. He and his wife, Gemma, an outgoing British expat, live in a cavernous apartment building in the west of Berlin. In their kitchen, Gemma told me that after arriving in Germany in 1989, she often got a strangely defensive reaction when she told people she was Jewish; they would tell her they didn’t feel responsible for the Holocaust or would defend their grandparents as not having perpetrated it. And so, to avoid conversations like these, she, too, stayed quiet about being Jewish.

Recently, the Michalskis’ youngest son became the third generation of the family to learn that telling people he is Jewish could cause problems. The boy — whose parents asked that he be called by one of his middle names, Solomon, to protect his privacy — had attended a Jewish primary school in Berlin. But he didn’t want to stay in such a homogeneous school for good, so just before he turned 14, he transferred to a public school that was representative of Germany’s new diversity — a place, as Gemma described it, where he “could have friends with names like Hassan and Ahmed.”

The first few days there seemed to go well. Solomon, an affable kid with an easy smile, bonded with one classmate over their common affection for rap music. That classmate introduced him to a German-Turkish rapper who would rap about “Allah and stuff,” Solomon told me. In return, he introduced the classmate to American and British rap. Solomon had a feeling they would end up being best friends. On the fourth day, when Solomon was in ethics class, the teachers asked the students what houses of worship they had been to. One student mentioned a mosque. Another mentioned a church. Solomon raised his hand and said he’d been to a synagogue. There was a strange silence, Solomon later recalled. One teacher asked how he had encountered a synagogue.

“I’m Jewish,” Solomon said.

“Everyone was shocked, especially the teachers,” Solomon later told me about this moment. After class, a teacher told Solomon that he was “very brave.” Solomon was perplexed. As Gemma explained: “He didn’t know that you’re not meant to tell anyone.”

The following day, Solomon brought brownies to school for his birthday. He was giving them out during lunch when the boy he had hoped would be his best friend informed him that there were a lot of Muslim students at the school who used the word “Jew” as an insult. Solomon wondered whether his friend included himself in this category, and so after school, he asked for clarification. The boy put his arm around Solomon’s shoulders and told him that, though he was a “real babo” — Kurdish slang for “boss” — they couldn’t be friends, because Jews and Muslims could not be friends. The classmate then rattled off a series of anti-Semitic comments, according to Solomon: that Jews were murderers, only interested in money.

Over the next few months, Solomon was bullied in an increasingly aggressive fashion. One day, he returned home with a large bruise from a punch on the back. On another occasion, Solomon was walking home and stopped into a bakery. When he emerged, he found one of his tormentors pointing what looked like a handgun at him. Solomon’s heart raced. The boy pulled the trigger. Click. The gun turned out to be a fake. But it gave Solomon the scare of his life.

….

Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

Good long and disturbing read by Anna Porter:

On the 75th anniversary of the extermination of most of Hungary’s Jews—including the Auschwitz deportations, which began in May, 1944—we should also take note of the Hungarian government’s apparent determination to distort the country’s historical record. In some circles, this effort includes even the rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy, the longtime Hungarian Regent who governed Hungary during the Holocaust.

A former admiral and adjutant to the Habsburg Emperor-King, Horthy entered Budapest in dramatic style with his army on November 16, 1919, astride a white horse. His army defeated the ragtag Bolshevik forces that had imposed 133 days of “Red Terror” upon the country, but also inflicted its own “White Terror,” in some ways more brutal than its communist predecessor. Early during Horthy’s rule, Hungary enacted some of Europe’s first 20th-century anti-Jewish laws. Jews were capped at 6% of university admissions, and subsequent measures limited Jewish participation in elite professions to the same benchmark.

Jews also were prohibited from working in the public service and judiciary, or as high school teachers. During World War II, an additional law was passed prohibiting marriage or sex between Christians and Jews, on the grounds that such unions were harmful to the “national soul.”

Horthy arrives in Budapest, 1919

Even before Hungary actively rallied to the German war effort, most of Hungary’s young Jewish men had been dispatched to so-called labour battalions, serving unarmed near the front, where they were as likely to be killed by their commandants as by enemy fire. In 1941, the Hungarian army rounded up about 17,000 Jews who couldn’t prove they were citizens, and dumped them across the border into Ukraine, where they were systematically massacred by German death squads. By 1942, labour service had been extended to all Jewish men under the age of 45. All this happened while Horthy—an “exceptional statesman,” according to current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán—ran the country.

Meanwhile, Hungary’s participation in the invasion of the USSR led to the extermination of the flower of Hungarian youth. At the 1942 battle of Voronezh and subsequent operations, the underequipped Hungarian 2nd Army was practically wiped out as it launched itself against Russian defences in support of the ultimately disastrous German thrust toward Stalingrad. By late 1944, Russian troops got to the outskirts of Budapest, which suffered through a 50-day siege before Axis forces surrendered on February 13, 1945. Almost 40,000 civilians died during this period, and much of the city was destroyed.

By this time, most of the country’s Jews already had been deported to concentration camps. In all, an estimated 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Historical documents show that even some Germans were amazed by the speed and efficiency of the Hungarian government’s co-operation, and by the cruelty of its gendarmerie.

Horthy and Hitler, in 1938

Some of the few elderly Hungarian Jews who survived in the Budapest ghetto can still remember scenes of rats feasting on the unburied dead in Klauzal Square, and the trigger-happy young men guarding the gates. I have spoken to many survivors, including Max Eisen, a Canadian Holocaust educator, who was a young teenager when his family was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. He still remembers the terror of being crammed into a boxcar, standing-room only, a hundred to a car, with no water, food or sunlight. To this day, Eisen has nightmares about his mother holding his nine-month-old sister during that three-day journey. Most of his family was murdered mere hours after arriving on the platform at Birkenau. His father’s last words to him were: “If you survive, you must tell the world what happened”—which is what Eisen did with his devastating 2016 book, By Chance Alone.

But Horthy, who survived the war and lived till 1957, had different memories to relate. In his Memoirs, he pompously declared of the mid-1930s that “though times had changed considerably since I had been aide-de-camp to His Majesty Emperor Francis Joseph, my concepts of honour, law and justice…had not altered.” Of meeting Hitler in 1936, he wrote: “It was not my task to stand in judgment upon the man who, since he had come to power, had shown nothing but goodwill towards Hungary, and who had sent me an extremely friendly telegram on the 15th anniversary of my entry into Budapest. I decided, therefore, to avail myself of an Austrian invitation to a chamois [goat-antelope] shoot in August, 1936, to seize the opportunity of paying a personal visit to Herr Hitler. The Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg had offered me the choice between three hunting preserves; I chose Hinterriss, which is famous for its chamois and to which Bavaria affords the only access.”

In concrete terms, the German “goodwill” consisted of allowing Hungary to reclaim parts of historical territories it had lost after throwing in with the losing side in World War I. Horthy’s primary concern was to restore Hungary’s former borders, even if that meant joining the Nazi war effort. As such, his strong nationalism has a certain appeal to modern populists such as Orbán.

In his Memoirs, Horthy uses terms such as “regrettable excesses” to describe massacres of Jews. He claims that he told Hitler, in early 1944, that “a violent solution [to Hungarian Jews] would be contrary to humanity and morals would not only undermine law and order but would have a deleterious effect on production.” He also claimed that in mid-1944—after he had been marginalized by the Germans, who by now were taking direct control of the country—that he did what he could to save the Jews who remained.

On October 15, 1944, Horthy announced over the radio that he had decided to sign a separate peace treaty with the Allies and withdraw Hungary from the conflict. He talked of the grave injustices inflicted by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which had set the fate of Hungary following the First World War. He blamed everyone except himself for the tragedies that had unfolded. His one passing reference to the slaughter of his nation’s Jews was contained in this sentence: “In the shelter of German occupation, the Gestapo tackled the Jewish question in a manner incompatible with the demands of humanity, applying methods it had already employed elsewhere.” It was lost on no one that Horthy was changing sides in the war only after it had become obvious that the Nazis would lose.

Many Jewish survivors recall the forced marches to the Austrian border that began in November, 1944. There were women and children, grandmothers and toddlers. It took more than three days to cover the distance from Budapest. A woman named Aviva told me that those who could not move were shot, and the ditches were lined with bodies. There was no food or shelter. Young Hungarian men stood guard along the route. These were members of the Arrow Cross Party, the far-right Hungarian movement that would run the country from late 1944 to March, 1945.

Near the border, Aviva’s group was joined by a rag-tag group of labour-service men who had been force-marched from the Bor copper mines—more than 300 of them having already been killed. One of the survivors was the young Hungarian poet Mikos Radnoti. He was murdered near Gyor in Western Hungary. When his body was found in a mass grave, his pockets were filled with scraps of paper—his last poems.

Memorial at Liberty Square

Hungary does not deny the fate of its Jews. Indeed, 2014 was declared to be a year of official Holocaust remembrance. But a memorial commissioned by Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party and erected in Budapest’s Liberty Square has provoked controversy, and even outrage. It presents Hungary in the guise of a thin, languid Archangel Gabriel-like figure being seized upon by a nasty-looking German bronze eagle with outstretched wings and terrifying claws—a symbol plainly meant to suggest Hungary was an innocent party that had been preyed upon by an evil outside force. Historian Krisztian Ungvary has called it a “living horror,” and it has attracted regular protests. But the message is consistent with the larger agenda of Orbán, who wants to promote a new, whitewashed form of national history, according to which the suffering of the Jews was no more nor less brutal than that endured by the entire country under Nazi and then Soviet rule.

Not far from the monument, there is a bronze bust of Horthy at the entrance to a Hungarian Reformed church: At the 2013 unveiling ceremony, leading members of Orbán’s government were in attendance. But also nearby is a monument commemorating the orgy of killing by Hungarian cadres, even as German troops retreated from Budapest under Soviet bombardment in the last months of the war. This year, Hungary’s Jewish community was given permission to bury bones found in the river during the 2016 reconstruction of the Margaret Bridge across the Danube.

During this final spasm of senseless slaughter, thousands of Jews were marched to the Danube and shot, or just pushed into the icy waters to die. It’s important to remember that the killers weren’t German soldiers, but members of Hungary’s own Arrow Cross movement. During my research, I interviewed a survivor—a 4-year old-child at the time—who remembers being taken to the river with his mother. To this day, he thinks it was his childish voice that saved his family when he asked, “Mr. Arrow Cross, when can we go home?” he and his relatives were then ushered out of the line of fire, and he survived to tell the story.

“Shoes on the Danube” memorial

Orbán’s favorite historian, Maria Schmidt, is in charge of the museum known as House of Terror, at 60 Andrassy Boulevard in Budapest. It commemorates both the Nazi terror and the Communist terror, and includes material about Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Five of the museum’s 17 rooms contain exhibits relating to this subject. But the same historian is also in charge of another, more controversial museum—the House of Fates, which originally had been set to open its doors five years ago. Its initial mandate had been to commemorate the Hungarian experience of the Holocaust. Israel’s Yad Vashem, Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the distinguished Hungarian-American professor Randolph Braham (1922-2018) were invited to collaborate. But almost from the beginning, the government’s local appointees reportedly began to push for a new version of the narrative, one by which Hungarians were largely blameless victims of German and Soviet aggression. The whole project fell into limbo, seemingly hostage to opposing historical voices. A Yad Vashem official declared that, from what he’d seen, “visitors to the House of Fates are to be shown and taught that, except for a tiny, criminal and fanatic minority, the citizens of Hungary were essentially blameless for what was inflicted upon their Jewish neighbors.”

As someone who grew up under Hungary’s communist dictatorship, I have a complicated relationship with the past—as my memories of family and friends are intermingled with the fears of saying the wrong thing in a country where judges, schools, the judiciary and the education system were all controlled by the government. And I can see why the country itself also has a complicated relationship with the horrors that its citizens witnessed, endured—and inflicted. But the only way to start healing from these crimes is to acknowledge how they happened.

Source: Seventy-five Years Later, Hungary Still Hasn’t Come to Terms with its Role in the Holocaust

Polish nationalists protest against US over Holocaust claims

Disheartening:

Several thousand nationalists rallied in Warsaw on Saturday against a US law on the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust, fuelling concerns about anti-Semitism in the country.

Far-right supporters who marched from the prime minister’s office to the USembassy waved banners reading “No to claims”, “Shame” and “Stop 477”.

The latter refers to the US Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act which requires the US State Department to report to Congress on the progress of countries including Poland on the restitution of Jewish assets seized during World War Two and its aftermath.

The protest took place amid a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic hate speech in public life in Poland and it appeared to be one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times. It also comes as far-right groups are gaining in popularity, pressuring the conservative government to move further to the right.

‘Biggest European anti-Jewish demonstration in recent years’

Poland was a major victim of Nazi Germany during World War II and those protesting say it is not fair to ask Poland to compensate Jewish victims when Poland has never received adequate compensation from Germany.

“Why should we have to pay money today when nobody gives us anything?” said 22-year-old Kamil Wencwel. “Americans only think about Jewish and not Polish interests.”

The protesters shouted “no to claims!” and “This is Poland, not Polin,” using the Hebrew word for Poland.

Rafal Pankowski, a sociologist who heads the anti-extremist group Never Again, called the march “probably the biggest openly anti-Jewish street demonstration in Europe in recent years.”

One couple wore matching T-shirts reading “death to the enemies of the fatherland,” while another man wore a shirt saying: “I will not apologise for Jedwabne”   a massacre of Jews by their Polish neighbors in 1941 under the German occupation.

Among those far-right politicians who led the march were Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Grzegorz Braun, who have joined forces in a far-right coalition standing in the elections to the European Parliament later this month. Stopping Jewish restitution claims has been one of their key priorities, along with fighting what they call pro-LGBT “propaganda.” The movement is polling well amongst young Polish men.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki echoed the feelings of the protesters at a campaign rally Saturday, saying that it is Poles who deserve compensation.

Poland was the heartland of European Jewish life before the Holocaust, with most of the 3.3 million Polish Jews murdered by occupying Nazi German forces. Christian Poles were also targeted by the Germans, killed in massacres and in concentration camps.

Looted property ‘continues to benefit Polish economy’

Many Poles to this day have a feeling that their suffering has not been adequately acknowledged by the world, while that of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust has, creating what has often been called a “competition of victimhood.”

Many of the properties of both Jews and non-Jews were destroyed during the war or were looted and later nationalised by the communist regime that followed.

Protesters said paying compensation would ruin Poland’s economy. But Jewish organisations, particularly the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, have been seeking compensation for Holocaust survivors and their families, consider compensation a matter of justice for a population that was subjected to genocide.

Poland is the only European Union country that hasn’t passed laws regulating the compensation of looted or national property, and the head of the WJRO, Gideon Taylor, noted Saturday that such property “continues to benefit the Polish economy.”

At least two US Confederate flags were visible at Saturday’s protest, which began with a rally in front of the prime minister’s office before the protesters walked to the US Embassy. Men in Native American headdress held a banner with a message pointing to what they see as US double standards: ‘USA, Practice 447 at home. Return stolen lands to the descendants of native tribes.”

With pressure building on this issue, the US State Department’s new envoy on anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, was in Warsaw this past week, telling leaders and media that the US is only urging Poland to fulfil a non-binding commitment it made in 2009 to act on the issue. He also said the US recognises that Poland was a victim of the war and is not dictating how Warsaw regulates compensation.

Source: Polish nationalists protest against US over Holocaust claims

Poll finds deep divisions among Ukrainian Jews on threat of anti-Semitism

Of note:

In the largest poll of Ukrainian Jews conducted in 15 years, nearly one fifth of 900 respondents (17 percent) said that anti-Semitism has increased in the country, while another fifth (21 percent) said the opposite.

The data underline divisions among Ukrainian Jews over the effects of the 2014 revolution that toppled the previous regime and unleashed an explosion of nationalist sentiment.

In the poll, commissioned by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress this year, another 23 percent of respondents said it was too hard to say whether there has been an increase anti-Semitism. Thirty-six percent of respondents said the level of anti-Semitism has not changed.

Ariel University’s Prof. Ze’ev Khanin developed the methodology for the poll and presented it Monday at a Kyiv Jewish Forum event. The previous survey of Ukrainian Jews this size occurred in 2003-2004.

Michael Mirilashvili, president of the Eurasian Jewish Congress, said that whereas anti-Semitism “is certainly an important challenge,” the main one is helping Jews “hold onto a strong Jewish identity that can withstand the environment and not weaken as a result of social pressures.” EAJC, he added, is investing in projects focused on achieving this, including Limmud.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Seventy-two percent of Ukrainian Jews said they feel solidarity with Israel, compared with 3 percent who said they do not and 26 percent who could not say.

  • Forty-two percent said they find it important that their descendants feel Jewish, compared to 25 percent who said it was not.

  • Twenty-nine percent described themselves as “Ukrainian Jews;” 22 percent as “simply Jews”; 6 percent as “Russian Jews”; and 21 percent percent as “human beings,” regardless of their Jewish affiliation.

Source: Poll finds deep divisions among Ukrainian Jews on threat of anti-Semitism

Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

One can only wonder at the sophistry involved. Just because something has been sung for ages doesn’t mean one should continue signing it:
“You can’t take anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and stick an equal sign between them,” Electra Ververidis, the new chair of the local district of the Social Democrat youth wing SSU, told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT.
“This song has been sung within the labour movement for ages past. It is about taking a political position against the occupation of the Palestine, and is not about being against Israel or the Jewish people.”
The performance of the chant-like song, which is repeats the words ‘Long Live Palestine, Crush Zionism” was condemned on Wednesday by Svante Weyler, Chair of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism.
“The idea that you want to abolish the state of Israel is an antisemitic idea,” he told SVT.
Ververidis’s defence of the song reversed a rapid apology given earlier in the week by the youth movement’s national chair Philip Botström.
“I understand and take seriously all the criticism against our local unit in Malmö,” he wrote on Twitter after a recording of the song being sung was circulated on Wednesday.
“There should be no doubt over where SSU stands on this question. We distance ourselves from all forms of antisemitism.”
He asserted that the youth movement would not sing the song in future.
But Ververidis said no such decision had been taken, explaining that SSU’s Malmö branch had yet to discuss whether singing the song would be appropriate during future demonstrations. “We have not yet had time to consider that,” she said.
She criticised Botström’s condemnation of the song.
“It is very unfortunate that Philip Botström is now mixing up apples and pears. This chant has been sung for ages and is about criticism of Israel’s occupation policies and nothing else. This is something Botström himself well knows.”

Source: Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

That Netanyahu cartoon wasn’t anti-Semitic

A contrary view by the Israeli comedian, Zeev Engelmayer:

The New York Times’ cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog for Donald Trump that angered the “Jewish world” is actually a clichéd cartoon, though well-designed and certainly not anti-Semitic. It describes two leaders, one blind being led by the other. It’s a caustic image with a vicious tone, exactly what a political cartoon should be.

Netanyahu is depicted as a dachshund, which maybe is a compliment because these dogs are great hunters, and despite their natural suspiciousness, they boast an innate ability to make friends. Behind Netanyahu the dachshund walks his good friend Trump, sullenly, a kippa on his head, symbolizing the strength of his ties with Netanyahu. Trump has been photographed wearing a skull cap — near the Western Wall, for example — so it’s not something an artist has put on him without any justification.

The choice to illustrate Netanyahu and Trump walking with determination, and even against a blood-red background, hints that they’re not just taking an innocent morning walk. They’re on a survivalist hunting trip. What are they hunting? Foreigners? Leftists? The hostile media?

The media said Netanyahu was drawn with an unusually large nose, but a very superficial look confirms that Netanyahu’s nose hasn’t been distorted, certainly not in a way reminiscent of anti-Semitic cartoons, as has been alleged. The complaint that the illustration is anti-Semitic reinforces the feeling that the Foreign Ministry looks for every possible justification to play the victim to silence critics.

Images depicting politicians as blind people with guide dogs is as old as the advent of political cartoons. James Akin’s infamous one from 1804 shows Thomas Jefferson with the body of a dog. Richard Nixon has also been drawn as a dog, and Tony Blair as a dog wearing an American flag as his collar. American patriots have been depicted as a herd of blind horses.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been portrayed as a wild dog biting Barack Obama’s hand. His nose was made to look a lot longer than Netanyahu’s in this week’s cartoon. Was there any outcry against the Ahmadinejad cartoon or demands to outlaw it as anti-Semitic?

Theresa May was depicted by the graffiti artist The Pink Bear Rebel this year, was she not? She’s seen blindfolded being led by a blindfolded bulldog wearing a British-flag doggie jacket. You can only guess what the Foreign Ministry would say about a cartoon of a bulldog wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Under pressure from the Israeli consul general in New York and the Foreign Ministry, the Trump-Netanyahu cartoon was removed from the internet. The newspaper published a clarification, a half apology, and described the cartoon as offensive and an error in judgment.

A cartoon is by definition an exaggeration that looks for weak points. Sometimes it’s a warning sign: It provides strong, exaggerated images to shock and awaken. That was the case this time, a moment before this duo drags us along with them on a leash on a nighttime stroll.

Source: That Netanyahu cartoon wasn’t anti-Semitic | Opinion