It was with mixed feelings that on Sunday I participated in an enormous rally protesting against the rise in anti-Semitism across the continent of Europe. It took place at the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of recent German history in the very heart of Berlin. Just over eighty years ago, on 30th January 1933 this same site was witness to Hitler’s spectacular victory celebrations on becoming Chancellor of Germany; after 1945 it became the symbol of the Cold War and the divided Germany. Now it was home to the rally organised by World Jewish Congress and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
It was attended and addressed by the great and good of modern Germany and I felt a surge of confidence as a European Jew as it began with a passionate speech by the head of the Central Council denouncing anti-Semitism as a problem not just for Jews but for all decent citizens.
The most dramatic point, however, was a speech by Chancellor Angela Merkel who refuted those who claim that Jewry in Europe has no future. She reiterated her belief in the fundamental role that the Jewish community has played and will continue to play in German life. Coming over as softer but more passionate than her public image she denounced anti-Semitism with a passion that was patent. She described her country’s Jewish community as a treasure which should always be valued..
Affirming her support for Israel and the Jewish people she pointed out how banners saying that Hitler was right had clearly nothing to do with the conflict in the Middle East: the crude anti-Semitism of these protesters is about Jew-hatred and little else.
She was followed by the Heads of the Catholic and Lutheran churches. Leaders of all the major parties were there and the occasion concluded with an address by Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, denouncing all forms of racism.
One could not fail to be moved by the occasion. Just over seventy five years ago the head of the last functioning Jewish school in Vienna before the war risked in his life by asserting in a public speech in the presence of masses of SS men that Shema Yisroel would be heard long after Heil Hitler was forgotten. Here was living proof.
It was an exhilarating experience but troubling. It is now almost seventy years after the end of the war revealed the scale and barbarity of the Holocaust but we still need occasions like this.
The response from the political elite in Germany was sensational, but that from the masses less so. As in this country, we talk of organising a Jewish campaign against anti-Semitism but as has been said, anti-Semitism is a not Jewish issue but one for all decent people. We are not the only victims of it. Our cause is that of all decent people who will all be caught out if it is not fought properly. Occasions like Sunday give one greater confidence that Europe’s leaders will stand firm, though whether this will enough to reassure the Jews of Europe only time will tell.