On the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, Rachel Avraham interviewed internationally acclaimed anti-Semitism expert Manfred Gerstenfeld and discussed how the Holocaust continues to affect us to date.

Vandalized Holocaust Memorial in Rhodes, Greece (Photo Credit Israeli Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs)

A couple of generations after the Holocaust resulted in the murder of 6 million Jewish people and the destruction of European Jewry, the greatest genocide in human history still affects us to date.   Thanks to the Holocaust, we have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Genocide Convention, and the Catholic Church radically changed their theology.  At the same time, we always ponder as anti-Semitism rapidly increases across the globe, will the atrocities of the past be repeated?  On the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day, JerusalemOnline examines how the Holocaust continues to affect our lives to date.

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, internationally acclaimed anti-Semitism scholar Manfred Gerstenfeld stated that one of the results of the Holocaust was that Catholicism changed its theology, which thus enabled the Jewish people to enjoy better relations with the Catholic Church today: “The Catholic no longer hold the Jews responsible for the murder of Jesus. It was a lie from the beginning for the Jews could not kill anyone under Roman rule. Only the Romans could. At most, you could say that some Jews were present at the judgement but Pontius Pilate was the ruler. He didn’t need or want Jews to tell him what to do.  Out of all of the Jews in the area, how many of them could have been present at the crucifixion? But according to the New Testament, all of the Jews are responsible for what their ancestors didn’t do. However, in 1965, the Pope published a document where he stopped blaming the Jews for the crucifixion. So this idea was abandoned in 1965 and it is because they saw that it led to the Holocaust.”

According to Gerstenfeld, we always ponder whether another Holocaust can happen and for this reason, it is very important to study how the Holocaust impacts modern society: “A very important issue is the remembrance of the Holocaust. There are many efforts to distort the memory of the Shoah. The best known ones are done by Holocaust deniers or people who claim that Israel is a Nazi state. People abuse events related to the Holocaust in order to attack Israel and to address other issues. They also try to de-Judaize the Holocaust by presenting Anne Frank as a typical victim rather than as a Jewish victim. Then, there is the use of the word Holocaust in completely different contexts like the chicken holocaust, the smoking holocaust, etc.”

Despite the attempts to deny the atrocities that took place during the Holocaust or to minimize the gravity of the Holocaust, Gerstenfeld stressed that it is indisputable that “the lives of many people have been transformed because of the Holocaust either in a positive direction because they became known or in a negative direction for their whole future was destroyed even if they survived. If Elie Weisel wasn’t a survivor, how would he have ever become known in the world? The same is true for Simon Wiesenthal and Tom Lantos.  The reverse works as well. Treating Holocaust trauma has given us indications on how you treat trauma in general.   The impact is enormous.”

Vandalized Holocaust Memorial in Rhodes, Greece (Photo Credit Israeli Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs)


Nevertheless, even though the Catholic Church has revised their theology in response to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, Gerstenfeld still believes that European culture is anti-Semitic in nature: “The Holocaust happened in Europe. It has been promoted there for over 1,000 years. It started with the Catholic theology and proceeded onwards with Martin Luther who called to burn the synagogues. It continued during the Enlightenment, under Socialism and under Karl Marx. There is a list of influential anti-Semitic people there over the last 1,000 years.” When asked if the European anti-Semitic tradition is older, Gerstenfeld replied: “If you read the classical Greek and Roman authors, you have those who praise the Jews and those who curse them.  The church was entirely negative about the Jews. That is a big difference.   For the Greeks and Romans, it did not come out of a theology. It was true that the first pogrom was 2,000 years ago in Alexandria but it is different when it is based on an ideology. For the past 1,000 years in Europe, it is based on an ideology.   Before that, there were states that were not Christian.  There were many tribes that were late in becoming Christians.  Europe has a 1,000 year old anti-Semitic tradition.”

Despite the fact that Europe has made efforts to improve themselves since the Holocaust, Im Tirtzu noted that the continent still has a long way to go before anti-Semitism is eradicated from the continent.  One of the recent manifestations of European anti-Semitism was Germany funding the radical Zochrot organization, a leftist group working to eliminate the State of Israel and seeking to implement a Palestinian right of return.  The group participated in a video that proclaimed: “The Holocaust was the best thing to happen to the Jewish people.” Germany has provided Zochrot with over 1,100,000 NIS.

Many descendants of Holocaust survivors in Israel were outraged by German funding for Zochrot.  Noah Klein, the son of two Holocaust survivors, said:  “As a child of two Holocaust survivors, I appreciate that despite the horrors of the Holocaust, Germany has been a great friend and supporter of Israel. However, it is very painful to me that Germany is funding an anti-Israel NGO whose goal is the destruction of the Jewish state. The remnant of my family lives in Israel and Germany’s funding of such an organization that seeks to destroy their future must stop.”

Lori Fagelston, also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, noted: “This funding is a disgrace like no other. Only a few generations have passed and Germany is again committing another grave injustice against the Jewish people by funding this anti-Israel organization. This needs to stop immediately.”

Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg said: “The idea that Germany in 2017 is funding an organization that brazenly seeks to destroy the Jewish character of the State of Israel is a disgrace. This funding not only dishonors the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust but is anti-democratic at its core. This is another painful example of foreign governments working to impose their unwanted policies on the State of Israel via anti-Israel NGOs from within.”

“Today, it is popular in Europe to be anti-Israel,” Gerstenfeld noted in response to this recent development.  “In the EU, there are 150 million people who think Israel is exterminating the Palestinians.  The EU Council blames Israel for what is happening in Gaza.  All of the Europeans systematically ignore the violent remarks by the Palestinians.  Germany is not different from the rest.  The largest Palestinian party is Hamas, which is a Holocaust promoting party.   There is no doubt that they have double standards which is the heart of anti-Semitism.”

However, following the recent elections in the US, anti-Semitism has dramatically increased within the country.   With the rise of right wing and left wing anti-Semitism in the US, anti-Semitism has become a major issue in North America as well. When asked what he thought about the anti-Semitism that manifested itself during the recent elections in the US both on the far right and the far left, Gerstenfeld replied: “Anti-Semitism is not part of the American dream.   It is an immigrant society and some of them are anti-Semitic but it does not make up the core of the society.” Thus, Gerstenfeld believes that the situation in the US is less dire than in Europe despite the rapid rise in anti-Semitism witnessed recently within the country.  However, despite the fact that anti-Semitism is still very much part of European culture, he believes that if another Holocaust happens, it will be in the Arab world and not in Europe: “Europe would be a bystander and some of them would be positive about it but the main actors would be Arab.   Anti-Semitism is still part of the culture but not everyone is an anti-Semite.”

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