By Atharva Pandit:
In “Heldenplatz,” a play penned by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard and opened in 1988, the central character, an Austrian Jew, returning to Vienna for the first time after he left the country during the Second World War, is left aghast and shocked by his discovery of anti-Semitism still budding in his homeland Austria, even almost five decades after the end of the War. That was 1988, but the question of anti-Semitism is something which can be found even today in Europe, as several recent instances, especially after the recent war in Palestine, suggest. The fact that several intellectuals were asking of the fate of Jews in post-war Europe, even before the fall of the Third Reich- as during May 1942, when Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German clergyman, was engaged in talks in Sweden on the fate of Jews after the end of the war- and were seeking solutions to end the anti-Semitism in Europe once and for all does not seem to have had much of an effect. The anti-Semitist vein, almost 70 years after the fall of Hitler, is still starkly evident on the continent.
A 1945 report by the US-based Foreign Policy Association warned that anti-Semitism might even rise in post-Hitler Germany. They based their assumptions on a survey, which informed them that the Nazi propaganda would still have its after-effects in post-war Germany. Another factor was the fact that once the Jews were driven out during or before the war, their jobs and businesses were handed over to the ordinary Germans, which, according to the survey, were reluctant in returning them over back to the Jews. Another survey, in April 1945, collected the views of German refugees in Algiers in a report which stated that the Germans had reacted “unfavourably” when they were informed of Allies installing Jews as Mayors in liberated Rhineland. An essay on the Jewish question in post war Germany, titled “The Jews in Plans for Post-war Germany” by David Bankier states that a German official pointed out to the Lithuanian ambassador in Stockholm, Ignas Scheynius- who was acting as a mediator between Nazis and the Allies- that “the greatest obstacle against a settlement between Germany and Allies is the Jewish Question.”
But not all were ready to solve this question or to search for an answer. Even within the ranks of anti-Nazi exiles, many were of the opinion that Jews had, thanks to their intelligence and the capacity to work hard and climb the ladders, secured high positions in offices concerning various fields, but had lost them due to their arrogance. In the same essay, Bankier mentions of Otto Braun who, in a statement to a journalist of Associated Press, stated that the Jews and Germans had always lived happily in Germany and that it was because of the “infiltrating Eastern Jews” that made Hitler’s policy against the Jews go berserk. Another, named Wilhelm Abegg, a member of the German Democratic Party, explicitly suggested that the Jews find a settlement permanently outside of Europe after the war because they were “cunning and aggressively pushy.” Indeed, as Bakier notes, to find that anti-Jewish sentiments were being propagated inside the anti-Nazi intellectual establishment itself was a shock, to put it mildly.
That Abegg mentioned and warned in the interview that the return of Jews would be dangerous for the world peace can be witnessed in the recent war between Israel and Palestine. But, the implications of this war have given rise to the new-found sentiments within Europe of anti-Semitism. Extensive coverage of the conflict, with heart-shattering stories of year-old children killed in Israeli offensive and Palestinian buildings reduced to rubble, has led people in Europe towards their new-found frenzy against the Jewish community. Experts have pinned this as the worst time for the Jews ever since Nazism took roots in Germany- so much so that Angela Merkel had to address a special rally against the rise of anti-Semitism in Berlin on September 14th of this year. This she found inevitable after attacks against Jewish settlements and the community grew- last month Molotov cocktails were lobbed at a Jewish prayer house in Wuppertal while several protest marches in cities across the nation called for the Jews to be gassed, evoking the memories of Holocaust- memories which Germany has been trying all these decades to bury within its economic achievements. In France, within a period of one week, eight Jewish-related buildings were attacked, and banners proclaiming “Death to the Jews” were displayed. A Belgian cafÃ© welcomed dogs, but strictly forbid “Zionists” from entering. In Brussels, a synagogue caught fire in mid-September, and arson was the suspected cause. People have been beaten up in France and Netherlands for displaying Israeli flags. Offensive and shockingly suggestive statements have been displayed on shops and placards across Europe, shattering the concept of a safe Jew in Europe, and deeply affecting the psyche of the European Jews.
Israeli rockets bombing Gaza might have been the catapult for this new rise of anti-Semitism, but it certainly isn’t the only reason. The recent rise of neo-Nazi right in Europe has left the Jewish community intimidated. In Greece, for example, the rise of Golden Dawn coincides with the increase in attacks on Jews. Headed by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn has been termed as a fascist party, racist and highly violent in its activities. The party did obtain 7% votes in the 2012 national elections, which was a significant increase for the neo-Nazis, and was partly due to their campaigning on the burning issues of unemployment and economic meltdown, although it is also argued that the party obtained their popularity, in part, because of their right-wing activity, including the alleged murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a rapper whose songs leaned towards anti-Fascism. The party spokesperson has been heard gushing about Hitler’s “great personality.” Many members associated with the party have been jailed for racist violence and the denial of Holocaust, for which one could be legally punished. To the horror of many, as The New York Times reported, a right-wing German going by the name of SS-Siggi, was elected to the City Council of Dortmund in June. His real name is Siegfried Borchardt, and one doesn’t need too keen an interest in history to know the reason behind his nickname. Consequently, Marine le Pen, one of the daughters of the founder of the right-wing The National Front Party and also a Holocaust-denier, won 27.5% of the total votes in France- a substantially high number. It doesn’t need telling- citing these examples- that the attacks on Jews go beyond peaceful, humanitarian protests against Israel’s actions- this is full-blown anti-Semitism on display, and it needs to be stopped.
Not that the leaders of nations going through this problem haven’t taken a note of it- Merkel, as mentioned, rallied against it, calling Jews a “miracle” and a “special gift”. France’s Prime Minister made similar statements during the rise of attacks in July, firmly stating that “to be a Jew, to be French, to be French and Jewish identities are inseparable.” Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo also had her say against the attacks on Jews in her country. It needs to be understood, at such an apprehensive phase in Europe, that what Israel has been doing in Gaza is horrific, but recreating anxiety and punishing the innocent Jews of Europe for Israel’s sins is, indeed, nothing but trading an equally horrific path- one that has a forgettable past. It is the duty of these leaders to not to let the racial and ethnic sentiments rise in Europe- especially in such times as we live in, where economic meltdown has plagued Europe and war and bloodshed the Middle East. Many have been stating that this recent spurt of attacks is the “import of Middle Eastern conflict in Europe,” but this import needs to be stopped. It is necessary for the emotion of unity within Europe- already heckled by the conflict in Ukraine.
The character in the Bernhard play agitated and depressed by the anti-Semetic sentiments, commits suicide; the European leadership and intelligentsia needs to act swiftly if they don’t want such a dark reality to be playing out on the European continent. For this reality can lead to a very dark future, such as the human race has, unfortunately, experienced before.