Building Holocaust Memorials in Europe is No Substitute for Fighting Anti-Semitism

August 30, 2019 | Charlemagne
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Nearly every country in Europe has memorials to the Holocaust; its history is frequently evoked, or alluded to, by politicians and intellectuals. But while it is often taken as a given that commemoration of, and education about, the Shoah can inoculate against anti-Semitism, the continent’s recent experience suggests otherwise, as the Economist columnist writing under the name Charlemagne writes. (Free registration required.)

A poll by the European Union of 16,000 Jews in twelve member states found that 89 percent thought anti-Semitism had risen in the past five years, and that one in three had experienced harassment in the past year. Sometimes resurgent anti-Semitism is violent and proud, as with the beating with a belt of two men wearing skullcaps in Berlin last spring. Elsewhere it wears a mask of false innocence. . . . The leaders of Britain’s Labor party have for years tolerated anti-Semitism in the ranks. All this in a continent awash with memorials of what happens when one turns a blind eye to bigotry.

There are two possible conclusions to draw. One is that Europe’s commemorations of the Holocaust simply need to be bigger. But ten minutes by cab from the site of last year’s belt-beating in Berlin is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a sea of gravestone-like pillars taking up an entire city block. If prominence were the key, this should curb the attacks. The more awkward conclusion is that memorials are not enough—that, read wrongly, they can imply that anti-Semitism belongs only to the past, and engender complacency about the present.

Law enforcement must crack down systematically on anti-Semitic crimes. Leaders must shun politicians who blur the boundaries between mainstream politics and anti-Semitic filth. . . . [T]he past cannot merely be contained by designated places of memory. It seethes and writhes insistently, barely below the surface of everyday life. To learn the lessons, that surface must be broken.

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