PEOPLE PROTEST a meeting of the Alternative For Germany Party in Cologne last Monday. ‘The question therefore arises: Are we facing a 21st-century version of interwar Europe?’.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time in the history of Israel, the Ghetto Fighters’ House will host the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and the former president of Germany (2012-2017), Joachim Gauck, for the closing ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017.
For the Ghetto Fighters’ House, this historical event will set the ground for a different form of coping with the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. Indeed, the need to cultivate a new vision for coping – on both the Jewish and the universal levels – with the Holocaust as a man-made event that took place on our planet, has become existential. The memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for the Jews and for mankind in general have come to a historical crossroad.
First, the survivor generation is disappearing and the age of living testimonies is coming to a close. Consequently, the growing denial of the Holocaust, or at least the indifference to its legacy, are trends that must be taken into account.
Second, a generation of Western leaders many of whom were motivated by a sense of guilt to give Israel significant political and practical credit is also fading. The rising generation of leaders lacks these sentiments and, in light of Israel’s controversial polices in the occupied territories, this credit is collapsing. Widening parts of the public in Western democracies now perceive the victim, “David,” as the new “Goliath.” The severe ramifications of these developments go without saying.
Third, there are increasing signs that democracies are in the midst of an age of crisis unprecedented since World War II. Since the beginning of the millennium, we are witnessing increasing threats to the fundamental values of democracy; the effects of these threats on the stability of the democratic system in Europe, the US and in Israel are hard to overemphasize.
In all these places, the signs of a culture of fear and hatred of the other – be he a Jew, Muslim or refugee – and of the standard bearers of liberty everywhere are proliferating.
The question therefore arises: Are we facing a 21st-century version of interwar Europe? This emerging reality in the hearts of our democracies poses many challenges for the supporters of liberty and the protectors of democratic values: how should we confront the exacerbating assault on the fundamental values of the free world? How can we build up forces of change to work outside the political spheres? The principles we intend to build upon in the wake of the constitutive event on the coming Holocaust Remembrance Day, to counter the growing threats amid a social and cultural turmoil, should emanate from the recognition that evil in its most horrible manifestations is part of human nature.
Intolerance turns into verbal and tangible expressions of discrimination, which might deteriorate into a fear of the other, be he a Jew, a Muslim or anyone different, and from there to antisemitism in its modern colors, physical violence, killings and crimes against humanity, and at the bottom of this “slope of evil” is the Holocaust.
Positioning the Holocaust as a warning sign is meant to sear its moral lessons in the collective consciousness of all members of the communities of the free world. In addition to its positioning against the trends of denial and oblivion, this strategy we wish to base at the Ghetto Fighters’ House should create the means necessary to maintain the anchors that will safeguard liberty and democracy as a way of life.
President Gauck wrote among other things in his reply to President Rivlin’s invitation to join him at the coming Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony: “Germany’s crime against humanity that was the Holocaust means our people share a special, eternal bond.
For me, presumably the last German President born during the Second World War, strengthening the ties between our countries was a matter incredibly close to my heart... I was very moved by your invitation to be at your side as the former President of the Federal Republic of Germany at the close of Holocaust Remembrance Day... I very gladly accept your generous invitation.”The author is the founder of the Israel Democracy Institute, is currently the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ghetto Fighters’ House.