My Parents’ Nightmares Relived – The Rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 1:44pm

USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education was founded to capture the voices, emotions and faces of those who suffered, yet miraculously survived the most heinous crime ever committed against humanity by humanity.

The idea was to record individual and collective memories that would be preserved in perpetuity as a seminal educational tool to inform current and future generations that incitement, hate and violence against a person or a group can ultimately lead to death, genocide and ultimately extermination.

Perhaps it was for this reason that my parents would always admonish me when I used the word “hate” growing up. Survivors of the Shoah, my parents lived through the hell of Auschwitz-Birkenau. They certainly knew of hate and its consequences, having been subjects of virulent anti-Semitism through their childhood, culminating in their deportation at ages 12 and 13. Yet despite their suffering and loss, they’ve never been vengeful or hateful; they’ve always believed in the sanctity of the life of every human being.

Who could ever imagine that less than 70 years after their liberation, they and all survivors of the Holocaust would again experience rhetoric, violence and discrimination solely because they are Jewish? It may be disguised as anti-Zionism, but the scene is all too familiar and it’s playing out all over the world. “No Jews allowed” signs in shops in Belgium, fire bombings of synagogues in France, Israeli soccer players attacked in Austria, violent demonstrations with swastikas in London and Chicago, blood painted on an Israeli bank on 5th Avenue in New York City – with each day that goes by, the list is growing. And in Sweden, the country where I grew up and where my parents found refuge, Jews can no longer safely wear yarmulkes in public, and support for Israel is an unacceptable position. 

Hamas does not differentiate between Israelis and Jews in their charter or in actuality. And they don’t believe in co-existence. The jihadist in Somalia are calling for Muslims to kill Jews wherever they are, and Iran wants the complete destruction of the state of Israel. The relationship between these is obvious: They all have a common goal. Hence, the firing of more than 2,700 rockets over the last three weeks at civilians are either incitement of genocide or actual acts of genocide specifically directed at Jews. This brings us right back to anti-Semitism, and calling it anti-Zionism is not an absolution.

With children, grandchildren and a great-grandson in Israel, I wish that in the autumn of my parents’ lives that they could have enjoyed a time when Jews were not hated and singled out as the scourge of the world. But alas, very little has changed.

But the 53,000 testimonies in the Institute’s Visual History Archive (two of which are my parents’) can serve to educate those not yet infected by virulent hate (and even some of those who are.) By connecting people with testimony, we can help break humanity’s continuous cycle of violence and genocide that affects people of all colors and ethnicities across the globe.

History has shown us where unchecked anti-Semitism can lead. It is vital that we treat this latest wave of hate with the seriousness it deserves. Those who shared their stories with us were bearing witness so that the world might avoid another Holocaust. It is our duty to keep those memories alive, not only for them, but for future generations.




Joel Citron