One of the seminal slogans of the 20th century was the refrain “Never again!” This cry that rose from the ashes of the Shoah was meant to ensure that there would be no repeat of the greatest tragedy in modern European history.
In recent years, a seemingly long dormant ideology has returned to a semblance of power for the first time since the unconditional surrender of the German forces on May 8, 1945. Political parties that require members to be of “Aryan origin,” that have full armed and open-fisted salutes, that have logos distinctly resembling the swastika and that call for a census of Jews are back in Europe.
These elements are no longer consigned to beer halls, isolated farm retreats or the margins of European political discourse. They are moving closer to the mainstream. In fact, this newfound political confidence is reflected in the street, where more and more Jews are being physically and verbally attacked.
The Golden Dawn Party in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary and Svoboda in Ukraine are examples of European political parties that have moved well beyond the historic far right and unacceptable discourse of those like Le Pen’s National Front.
Many will argue that none of these parties have great power. But at what point will their power be too much? It’s a question that all decision makers, opinion shapers and law enforcement agencies in Europe must ask. And not in a theoretical sense, but in a very real practical sense.
The Jewish people who are in the direct line of fire of this malevolent hatred have little doubt that the threshold has passed, and it is having a real practical effect on the streets. A recent survey found that 63 percent of Hungarians are willing to affirm their anti-Semitism without shame.
On Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed. A few days prior, I visited the seat of European governance, the European Parliament, which was the joint recipient of the recent Nobel Prize for Peace. Along with many others, I lauded the E.U.’s commitment to peace and its success at unifying a continent known for bloodshed.
However, as Europeans, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and claim that a lack of war means that the European Union has succeeded in creating a harmonious and peaceful continent that can prevent future catastrophes. We should do everything we can to rid ourselves of this force that again tries to lay a dark shadow on our continent.
We call on all media, cultural and academic figures to use their platforms to help get rid of this disease. European politicians must adopt stricter legislation proscribing groups that promote hate, discrimination and racism from European political institutions. There must also be a demand for tougher enforcement and punishment, and the strengthening of education toward tolerance.
Some eight decades ago, the National Socialist Movement caught many by surprise, and most did not fully comprehend or believe that it would be willing or able to fulfill its genocidal and destructive platform. We now have no similar excuses. We know what this ideology seeks, we know what this racist movement aspires to and we cannot let it get a foothold again on our continent.
We must beat back the advances of this ideology — not for the victims of the past but for the possible victims in the future. If we do not, then “Never again!” will remain a hollow term.
As the prominent Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said, “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” l
Moshe Kantor is president of the European Jewish Congress and co-chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.