It’s a familiar arc: A Jewish community is attacked or threatened by anti-Semites, after which recriminations and regrets are publicly aired and the Jewish world wonders what could have been done differently to ensure Jewish safety.
And then there is Gothenberg.
This Saturday—not coincidentally Yom Kippur—the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) will march through the coastal town of Gothenberg, Sweden, spreading its anti-Semitic hatred on the holiest day of the Jewish year. During the Holocaust, it was customary for the Nazis to carry out atrocities on days important to the Jewish calendar. The added benefit to the NRM of holding its hate march on Yom Kippur is that it is the day when even Jews who rarely worship are likely to attend synagogue.
Gothenberg authorities have already changed the NRM’s planned route to avoid proximity to the town’s synagogue, prompting 60 Nazi supporters to demonstrate in the city center on Sept. 17. The protesters railed against immigration and knocked down a woman who confronted them about their message. A spokesman for the NRM subsequently said that the group might choose to ignore orders to change the route of the march.
The NRM’s history of violence and intimidation suggests that whether Saturday’s march passes immediately by the synagogue or not, the threat posed to the Jewish community is real. The group openly espouses anti-Semitism and racism and has spoken admiringly about Adolph Hitler. Group members have advocated for mass deportation of refugees and immigrants. This summer a Gothenberg court sentenced three men with ties to the movement for carrying out bomb attacks on refugee shelters.
The presence of a majority of the city’s Jews in the center of town this Saturday increases the likelihood that they will become targets of the NRM’s hostility. It is also probable that some Jews, fearing for their safety, will opt not to attend Yom Kippur services this year.
American Jews are still reeling from the experience of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month that led to one death and 19 injuries. Some of the marchers stood in front of the local synagogue with guns, forcing worshipers to leave through the back door. Hate mongers carrying flags and posters bearing swastikas shouted “Heil Hitler” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi slogan. Will Gothenberg become another Charlottesville? Only Swedish authorities can ensure this does not happen.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, B’nai B’rith has urged the Swedish government to stop the Nazi march from occurring on Yom Kippur. This is not a matter of suppressing free speech. The city of Gothenberg has maintained it’s powerlessness to stop the event from taking place. But what about the government’s obligation to maintain public order and protect its citizens from threats and intimidation by hate groups? At the very least, the march could take place on a different day, when violent attacks are less likely to result.
It’s often said that hindsight is 20-20. But there is something to be said for keen foresight, as well. Sweden’s neo-Nazis are preparing to descend on Gothenberg this Saturday, as the town’s Jewish community braces itself for what is supposed to be a day of introspection and atonement but figures instead to be one of fear and dread, perhaps violence as well.
To Swedish authorities, the message should be clear: Don’t let it happen. Protect your citizens. Ensure public safety. Don’t make the day after Yom Kippur one on which the world asks, “How could this have been avoided?”
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Fusfield.
Most of my professional life has been spent creating and running programs for B’nai B’rith International, having spent the last 39 years as a member of the professional program staff. I cannot look at a newspaper, magazine article or television show without thinking about how the subject can be utilized as a program. As social media brings this content to us at a rapid fire pace, I get this information even faster. The challenge is putting this content into perspective and seeing that there are some issues that will always be relevant for a program that will interest a B’nai B’rith audience.
As the years go by, the specifics may have changed, but I see each program taking form as a six point star (especially since it makes a very nice visual on a power point presentation!).
You do not have to be a trend spotter or a programmer to see these subjects as important to people. It is most likely a topic that is important to you. In B’nai B’rith, these topics are reviewed by the program centers and committees that provide content for the events that are brought to B’nai B’rith and the community audiences.
We have also offered an interest census to help us understand what is important in programming. The topics come from the themes mentioned above, the news headlines, or as we see them defined during an election year, the topics that are on political party platforms. It may have been a recent lecture topic at other organizations or the result of the consensus of coalitions we are part of, to provide a thematic approach to a subject for the Jewish community to educate itself and act with a unified communal response.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day) in Israel is not something that can be ignored. All the newspapers and broadcast outlets are dedicated to it. In thousands of ceremonies across the country, schools, academic institutions and government offices solemnly mark the murder of one third of the Jewish people during World War II. Traffic comes to a standstill and everyone—or nearly everyone—stops in their tracks while a piercing siren is heard across the land. I very much doubt that there is another nation in the world that shows greater respect for its national tragedy than Israel does towards the victims of the Holocaust.
Although the main thrust of the commemorations remain on the crimes of the Nazis and the devastation they wrought to a world of Jewish communities, rites, learning, traditions and individual victims, the B'nai B'rith World Center has been at the forefront of an effort to use these tragic events to fittingly turn the spotlight on Jews who went beyond the call of duty, endangering themselves and their families to rescue other Jews. Little known to most people today, thousands of Jews were engaged in such rescue activities in Germany, in the Axis states and in German-occupied territories. Together with a dedicated group of volunteers, members of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) and the B'nai B'rith World Center have held annual large scale events on Yom Hashoah in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. JRJ was established over 15 years ago at the initiative of Haim Roet, who survived in Holland as a child through the heroic efforts of two non-Jews who were subsequently recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem and a Jew, Max Lions.
This event is, to the best of our knowledge, the only annual tribute dedicated to Jewish rescuers anywhere in the world. Through it we strive to inspire the nearly 1,000 school students and border police cadets present with the understanding that contrary to the popular perceptions validated by some Holocaust historians, Jewish solidarity did not die in the Holocaust—although it was, undoubtedly, put under tremendous strain. In reality, thousands of Jews rose to the challenge and, when the opportunity arose, found ways and the wherewithal to help fellow Jews.
The contemporary message we wish to promote is clear: these days when divisions among the Jewish people are escalating and dialogue has become polarized, the example of those Jews who rescued others in the face of annihilation should encourage us to rally our sense of solidarity and common Jewish destiny. Hundreds of thousands more in Israel are exposed to this message through the press coverage the event receives and other initiatives undertaken by the Committee.
Another 8,000 young German Jewish men released from Nazi imprisonment—many ransomed using his own fortune—were rescued through a scheme he proposed to establish internment camps in Britain. Israel died on June 1, 1941 along with actor and British intelligence office Leslie Howard when their plane was brought down in the Bay of Biscay by the Luftwaffe on a flight from Lisbon, Portugal. At that time Israel was busy planning the rescue of children from Nazi-occupied Europe to pre-state Israel for the Jewish Agency. He is credited with saving 50,000 Jewish lives. Each rescue story—like these two examples—is a narrative of heroism and selfless dedication to fellow Jews.
Through the efforts of the World Center and the Committee, key institutions and leading figures have become aware of the phenomenon of Jewish rescue. Writing to me and to Roet last month, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot noted that “our letter to him (about rescue by Jews in the Holocaust) brought home the importance of memorializing the Jews who endangered their lives to rescue the lives of their brethren during the Holocaust. As a result of this I found it appropriate to note these heroic rescue activities in my comments at a symposium of the General Staff at Yad Vashem prior to Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. We must remember and not forget the bravery that was shown alongside the pain. The principals of courage and camaraderie upon which the Jewish people acted in order to rescue their brethren, accompanies us—the commanders of the IDF and its soldiers…”
Also, in a letter dated May 17, Asa Kasher, professor emeritus in philosophy at Tel Aviv University and the author of the IDF’s code of ethics and a leading moral voice in Israel, wrote to the Committee in support of its initiative to amend the Yad Vashem Law and charge it with recognizing Jewish rescuers.
Another recent breakthrough is the acceptance of an MA thesis by the University of Haifa Faculty of Humanities, Multidisciplinary Program in Holocaust Studies by Noa Gidron, “Jews Saving Jews—individual initiative during the Holocaust 1939-1945” in which the World Center’s work on this issue was recognized.
These developments have inexorably set Jewish rescue on a path to become the next major topic of Holocaust research and attention.
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