Today, January 20, 2023, marks 81 years since the infamous Wannsee Conference was held in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. The sole purpose of the 1942 meeting was to decide on the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.” While there is no written documentation giving details as to who gave the order for the Final Solution, it is generally acknowledged that it was a verbal order from Hitler himself.
On July 31, 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hermann Goering ordered Reinhard Heydrich to make preparations for the Final Solution. Mass murder, by gunfire, had been carried out by the German soldiers. But this method was considered inefficient at a time when the German invasion of the Soviet Union was not going according to plan; it required that more German soldiers fight against the Soviet Union rather than shoot Jews. A more systematic way had to be found to annihilate the Jews.
The first experiment to kill the Jews using gas was carried out at Auschwitz in September 1941, using Zyklon B, a cyanic gas. It proved to be highly successful, simultaneously murdering a large number of Jews in a sealed room.
On January 27, the annual International Holocaust Memorial Day will be commemorated. That date was chosen, as it was the day in 1945 when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated from the Germans. It was there that more than one million Jews were murdered. Based in Poland, it housed a complex of 40 concentration and extermination camps.
TODAY, THERE are a number of organizations whose raison d’etre is to remind the world of what happened to Jews, specifically because they were Jews. In the UK, one of the most significant organizations is Generation to Generation” (G2G ), which recognizes the importance of passing on knowledge of the Holocaust to the younger generation.
Initially, it was the Holocaust survivors themselves who addressed the schoolchildren. Today, since many survivors have now left this world, it is the children and grandchildren of survivors who tell the story of their departed relatives.
Teaching about the Holocaust is an obligatory part of secondary school education throughout the UK. Nevertheless, as was explained by one of the G2G members, much depends on how the teacher presents the subject – another reason that the survivors’ stories are of particular significance.
But can teaching about the Holocaust contribute toward counteracting the current wave of antisemitism?
Recently, there has been a spate of literature devoted to examining why Jews today are once again facing both verbal and physical antisemitism. David Baddiel, an author, comedian, presenter and screenwriter, wrote a book, Jews Don’t Count, in 2021. His message is that because Jews are not physically different, they do not count as being separate from the average white person.
Jonathan Freedland, a journalist for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, was approached by London’s Royal Court Theatre to write a play that would give the Jewish perspective on antisemitism. The request followed complaints against the theater for having been the venue for a number of productions considered antisemitic. One production, in November 2021, was Rare Earth Mettle. The theater had to apologize publicly for the play’s antisemitic overtones.
Last September, I saw Freedland’s play, Jews in Their Own Words. It was an attempt to show how antisemitism has pervaded every aspect of life. The actors represented politicians, playwrights and ordinary folk. The London production, while meaningful, had a very short season yet produced antisemitic reactions.
To find out how antisemitism is being dealt with in the UK, the Magazine spoke to Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust (CST). The Trust works in cooperation with the government and the police to protect British Jews by providing security services to schools, synagogues and manifold Jewish events.
Rich said there were 2,255 cases of reported antisemitism in 2021 – the highest number ever recorded. While this figure is disturbing in itself, even more worrying is that in 2018, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights carried out a survey asking Jewish individuals how many had actually reported their experience of antisemitism. For the UK, the answer was just 21%.
Social media is a prolific vehicle for spreading antisemitism far and wide. Addressing how to counteract this vicious platform, Rich said that while the online bodies have excellent rules meant to prevent antisemitism, the problem is that they are not being enforced. On a positive note, the UK government is currently working on an Online Safety Bill to compel companies to control what appears on the Internet.
CST, founded in 1994 as one of the earliest associations offering security for the Jewish community, is in regular touch with Jewish communities in other countries. It recently helped thwart a major attack in New York through online intelligence.
On the question of campus antisemitism, Rich said he believes it is projected in the form of anti-Zionism, noting that the number of reported antisemitic incidents increases when there is conflict in Israel. Another factor is that many people have never met Jews; their image and understanding of Jews are based on the negative model projected on social media networks.
Lord John Mann, the British government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, recently proposed that schools include the teaching of contemporary antisemitism as part of the secondary education curriculum. Rich noted that “there can be no doubt that starting thoughts on antisemitism with the younger generation is likely to be far more effective.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE of CST and its vital necessity was recently acknowledged by King Charles’s visit to its headquarters in London. The king viewed a self-defense training session, visited CST’s 24/7 security control center, and was briefed on the full range of CST’s many activities, including support for the victims of antisemitism, expert online investigative research against terrorism, and the sharing of security advice with other faith and minority communities.
Judith Hayman, a former teacher and current lecturer for G2G, has spoken about antisemitism to pupils in more than 100 schools. She shares Rich’s view that many have never met Jews and base their impressions on the negative images of Jews projected online. She supports Lord Mann’s proposal, maintaining that it is far more effective, where possible, for non-Jewish teachers to teach this subject.
To this end, she has produced a guide for teachers called “Love Your Neighbor,” which is being promoted by the UK’s Campaign against Antisemitism, a non-governmental organization set up in 2014. Ideally, Hayman would like her guide to be part of the curriculum in teachers’ training colleges.
In 2006, I was honored to be invited by Robert S. Wistrich to share a platform with him on “A New Antisemitism? The Case of Great Britain.” Wistrich headed the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He was a prolific author and editor of numerous books on antisemitism – one of the best known is Antisemitism – The Longest Hatred, which Wistrich wrote following being commissioned to create a series on the subject for Thames TV.
“Antisemitism did not disappear with the Holocaust any more than it has been eradicated by secular, universalist ideologies like Soviet communism or indeed Zionism, which proposed to ‘normalize’ the Jewish status by creating an independent nation-state in Israel.”Robert S. Wistrich
“Antisemitism did not disappear with the Holocaust,” he said at the gathering, “any more than it has been eradicated by secular, universalist ideologies like Soviet communism or indeed Zionism, which proposed to ‘normalize’ the Jewish status by creating an independent nation-state in Israel.”
TODAY, THE longest hatred is still with us, disseminated further and faster via online social media. We can but hope that not only in Britain but throughout the world, governments will recognize the urgent necessity to introduce legislation against the constant poison of Jew-hatred.
In the 81 years since the Wannsee Conference, we find ourselves in a world facing social unrest and economic challenges – a situation not far removed from the one in which Hitler rose to power. However, yesterday is not today because we are the privileged generation living in a world where there is an Israel whose gates remain ever open to every Jew, in every place.
The writer is chair of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA).