This week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Many of my Jewish friends are sharing their own family experiences of the holocaust. Nearly all of us have them.
Before the Second World War, my grandfather Elio lived in a village called Lubcz in Belorussia, where he had been brought up.
In 1941 the Germans invaded Belorussia and “liquidated” the village – the Jews who lived there did not even make it to Auschwitz. My grandfather managed to escape but the rest of his family and friends were murdered. Along with the rest of the Jewish population, they were marched out of the village and machine gunned to death en masse in one day. A thousand men, women and children. including many of my relatives, all brutally killed in one day.
I have visited Lubcz and seen where all this happened. The experience had a deep impact on me. It is part of my family’s story, part of my identity, part of who I am.
Rise of anti-semitism
There is a reason why so many of my friends are posting these stories at the moment and it is not just because it is Holocaust Memorial time. It is because increasingly, we as Jews feel concerned about our future and the rise of anti-semitism throughout the world.
My brother, who works as an accountant in Manchester, was hit in the face last year at a Jewish delicatessen. The motive of the assailant was that he was buying Israeli food. The police were there and asked him whether he wanted to press charges. All this for being Jewish and buying bagels.
My other brother lives in Southgate in London. The synagogue he takes his children to has had bricks thrown at it.
This is happening today in 2015 – and Jews are nervous again. I believe in the old Churchill adage that “the further back you look, the further forward you are likely to see.” History could not be more relevant in today’s world.
Increasingly we have a bizarre anti-Jewish European coalition growing in Europe between radical Islamic views, the far right and the far left. They are different in many ways but they unify on one key point – seeing a common enemy in Israel, and by implication, Jews. From George Galloway to Jean Marie Le Pen via Nicolas Anelka – they all share one core belief – that Israel and “the Jews” are at the heart of the “problem”.
In France we have a situation where Jean Marie le Pen and the founder of the “quenelle”, Dieudonne, have founded a strong anti-establishment voice which has a contempt for Jews and Israel at its heart. The result: 35% of those under 35s in France voted for the Front National.
No wonder French Jews are leaving France. Over the last year or so many French Jews have fled to two places: London and Israel.
Why London? Because it is in the EU and is relatively easy to travel back to Paris to continue with their jobs. But also Britain has a proven history of protecting minorities. Jews have lived here for 360 years in relative peace. My family have lived happily here and are testament to that.
The vast majority however have gone to Israel. Why? Because it welcomes them with open arms and says “here we will look after you and we will die to protect you”
Of course this is not ideal as we share the land with another people. I hope and pray that Israelis and Palestinians can live alongside each other in peace, with a Palestinian state founded alongside an Israeli one. Where both peoples can live freely.
Everyone should be able to walk freely without fear of intimidation and violence but currently we are walking a tightrope. As we remember the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we must commit to making sure that such hatred never takes hold of our world again. As George Santayana put it “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Alan Bolchover lives in North West London with his wife and two children.