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The killing fields of Europe: Then and now

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland on May 10, 2017. Photo by Isaac Harari/Flash90.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland on May 10, 2017. Photo by Isaac Harari/Flash90.
Eliana Rudee

Earlier this month, while four Jews were being murdered at a kosher supermarket in Paris, I was visiting the concentration camps Majdanek and Auschwitz II-Birkenau for the first time with a Jewish group of young entrepreneurs and leaders. As expected, what I saw and learned was haunting and devastating. What humans are capable of doing to others is simply incomprehensible and makes one question the nature of humanity, especially walking through a concentration camp—the 20th century’s most profound symbol of the world’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.  

Haunting me throughout the tour was the thought that I would be able to exit the camp so easily, while my ancestors only dreamed of exiting, and what was the message for me? What am I to think when leaving the camp? That the Holocaust of the Jewish people is over? That I am so relieved that I live in a time when I don’t have to experience the suffering of the Holocaust? It is true that much of the world has said “never again” to letting another mass extermination of Jewish people occur. It is also true that the Jewish people have lived, often prosperously, since the Holocaust. Yet it is definitely not so simple as the Jewish mantra “they tried to kill us and we prevailed.”

Still, to this day, the global Jewish community is threatened by those who act to destroy it. At Majdanek, there is fresh swastika graffiti on a gas chamber. In France, attacks against Jews have driven them from their homes, many finding their new home in the land of Israel. And even in Israel, Hamas intends to annihilate Israel’s existence with a charter that the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman has said “reads like a modern-day ‘Mein Kampf.’”

While reflecting in the concentration camps after the hostages had been murdered, I could not escape the realization that the Holocaust against the Jewish people is not over. There may be no walls, barbed wire, and barracks, but there certainly are individuals and groups who would love to annihilate the Jewish people.

As a Wall Street Journal video discussing the state of French Jewry explains, there is a large exodus of French Jews to Israel, and this trend predates the recent Charlie Hedbo attacks. There has recently been a significant increase in anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish synagogues, schools, and communities. The anti-Israel rallies last summer in France looked a lot like Kristallnacht, and anti-Semitic cartoons that promote stereotypes and mock the Holocaust are resurfacing despite post-production apologies.

Sound familiar? It should. Many Jews fled Eastern Europe in the face of growing anti-Semitism before the Holocaust, and pogroms rattled Jewish cities right before Jews were concentrated into Nazi camps. And old Nazi propaganda cartoons show a shocking resemblance to the ones being drawn today.

While I view this as how the world is, I do not think this is how the world should be. Anti-Semitic acts and terrorism must be fought in the most committed way possible and should never be given a pass. Many people ask how the Holocaust could have happened. We know that it did not happen overnight. There were countless warning signs and an obvious build-up of anti-Semitic incidents around Europe leading up to the Holocaust. We vow “never again” to the Holocaust, and it is now more relevant than ever to say “never again” to the build-up of anti-Semitism that is festering in Europe today.

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for Truth & Accountability. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. Follow her @ellierudee. 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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