Two months after President Paul von Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler began his persecution of German Jews. No one at the time could have imagined that this would sow the seeds of a war that would plunge Europe and the world into unimaginable bloodshed and chaos.
Hitler’s primary goal was to create a volksgemeinschaft (people’s community) based on race that sought the extermination of the Jewish people. In 1933, the Nazis began to enact various discriminatory measures, starting with a national boycott of Jewish businesses and the exclusion of Jews from the civil service, the legal profession and teaching positions in secondary schools and universities. In 1935, Hitler’s aim became crystal clear with the adoption of the Nuremberg Race Laws, which not only stripped Jews of what remained of their civil rights but revoked their German citizenship. The Nuremberg Laws even forbade marriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans.
Throughout Europe, the reaction to all this was mild and limited to, at best, words of acute reproach. In general, governments refrained from intervention and sought to pacify the Nazis. This helped pave the way for the most horrifying explosion of hate in history. As a result, the slogan “never again” relates not only to the fate of the Jews, but to the worldwide disaster caused by the appeasement of hate.
I do not want to make an analogy between the Holocaust and the recent massacres carried out by the Russian army in Ukraine. Nevertheless, children and their mothers killed in droves, civilians shot with their hands tied and evacuation corridors that turned out to be traps for people on the run are all things to which the phrase “never again” can and must be applied. And, more ominously, this collapse of moral inhibitions raises the terrifying possibility of another world war.
The European Union was created after World War II in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a disaster. It represented, in other words, an expression of the ideal of “never again.” If the E.U. fails to express that ideal, the E.U. itself has no purpose. But look at the reaction to the Ukraine massacres by Germany and France, the first of which was the direct perpetrator of the extermination of the European Jews, and the second of which abandoned Jewish children to the Nazis. These two counties should be the leaders of an effort to ensure by force that no harm comes to any child. However, this has not been the case. It appears that the United Kingdom alone will step up, as in the days of Winston Churchill—the only leader who understood where the appeasement of Nazism would lead.
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine cannot be stopped by mere words for two reasons; reasons with which Israelis are extremely familiar. First, the Russian aggressor, for ideological reasons, doesn’t want peace—it wants to subjugate Ukraine and force it to submit to the Russian empire. Ideology is also why it is currently impossible for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians—the Palestinians don’t want it, because their ideology demands Israel’s obliteration.
Second, even if Ukraine surrendered part of its territory to Russia, it would make no difference, because the Russian use of force against Ukraine would become even more aggressive and brutal. Any territorial concession by Ukraine will simply serve as a platform for more Russian attacks. We can learn this by looking at the situation in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.
Those who advocate for peace must be guided by a historical and political reality: Peace can be made only with those who do not want war and do not have an ideological preference for violence. There is nothing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky can do but try to stop Russian aggression by force, and we must help by not losing our common sense. Common sense demands that we make moral choices, protect civilian lives and put aside the pacifism that is, just as it was in the past, a hypocritical attitude. We must defend the children of Ukraine by remembering what “never again” really means. To do so, we must look to the lesson of the Middle East—“never again” means “stand up and fight.”
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.