Anti-Semitism is part of our past, but not yet history

Even today, Europe is not immune from repeating the fatal mistakes of the past. Anti-Semitism and hatred flare up again and again and represent a danger to our civilization. The self-critical examination of our history must therefore equally always continue in order to make a peaceful future possible for all. 

An appeal by Franz Fischler (Translated by Hilde Mayer)

The European Forum Alpbach first took place under this name in the late summer of 1945 „as one of the first projects for a renewal of intellectual life after National Socialism and the Second World War“, as the historian Maria Wirth puts it in her book „A Window on the World“. As Forum Alpbach, we speak with a certain pride of the fact that as early as 1945, work began on gathering together pro-European-minded people to pave the way for a future in which atrocities such as those committed during the Second World War would never happen again. 75 years later, many too often feel secure that we have succeeded in creating that future. The year we celebrate as the Year of Liberation does not mark the historical end of anti-Semitism, for this has still not been achieved. People often speak of „anti-Semitism then and now,“ ignoring the continuity that has existed and continues to exist in the hatred of Jews.

„Anti-Semitism?“ – „Heard of, but no plan.“

This can be seen, on the one hand, in events such as the far-right terrorist attack on the Halle synagogue last year and, on the other hand, in much more widespread minor attacks on our Jewish fellow citizens. The 2019 Anti-Semitism Report of the Forum Against Anti-Semitism shows a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Austria. Insults, threats, the spreading of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online and swastikas that someone paints on the wall of the subway station at night are still part of everyday life. At the same time, many lack knowledge. A study recently published in „Profil“ by the Center for Political Education on behalf of the Vienna Chamber of Labor found that 81 percent of the students surveyed were either unable to name any definition of the term „anti-Semitism“ or could only name the wrong one. One of many answers: „Heard of, but no plan.“ 

Active remembrance

Regular remembrance and the scholarly and (self-)critical examination of the darkest hours of our history is our duty to those from whom our homeland and lives were taken. This also means the processing and continuous recounting of historical events such as the Krimml “ Jewish Flight“, in the context of which thousands of Jews took the arduous path over the Tauern in the summer of 1947 in order to reach Palestine via Italy.

Probably we need events like Alpine Peace Crossing today and in the future more urgently than ever. Not many contemporary witnesses of National Socialism and its fatal consequences for the Jewish population and other persecuted groups are still alive today and can tell us about this time. At the same time, nationalists in many countries of the world have regained popularity and power in recent years. The dangers that their victories posed to the security of various populations and to our civilization itself seem to have been forgotten. 

Never again?

When people talk about the „history of the EU,“ it is usually about the emergence of the Union from the European Coal and Steel Community, which was supposed to make a war like the Second World War impossible in the future. It is about the emergence of the European institutions and the EU as a peace project. As true as this narrative is, what is missing in many places is the confrontation with the fact that „never again“ has not yet been fully achieved. Anti-Semitism is part of our past, but not yet history.

At the same time, contemporary witnesses of the Srebrenica massacre, for example, which took place on European soil long after the Second World War and already during the time of the European Union, are rarely reflected in what we call the „history of the EU“. Yet Srebrenica is the worst European example since World War II of how our societies are not immune to repeating monstrosities of the past. We have still not arrived at the future, in which the targeted annihilation of an entire people, or at least the attempt to do so, is completely unthinkable and impossible. Today, as in 1945, the European Forum Alpbach makes it its business to be a place where paths are prepared to a future of solidarity and peace for all.

Information on the author: Franz Fischler was a member of the European Commission from 1995 to 2004 and is president of the European Forum Alpbach