Image for this article on Antisemitism and the Jewish Community is courtesy of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust https://www.hmd.org.uk/resources/
International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust – January 27th 2023
Content Warning: This article contains mentions of violence against the Jewish, LGBTQ+ and other communities.
On this important day we commemorate and remember the victims of the Holocaust. We continue to pay tribute to those whose lives have been destroyed or lost due to antisemitism, racism, and other forms of oppression. The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27th 1945.
Remembering the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust
The Holocaust was the genocide of an estimated 11 million people consisting of over 6 million Jewish people and millions from other minority groups during World War II. Nazi Germany used its power to systemically kill millions of innocent people from across most of Europe and parts of Africa between the years of 1939 and 1945.
The Nazi Party in Germany also persecuted and carried out industrialised murder of LGBTQ+ people and members of other communities. Even before 1933, homosexuality was illegal in the country. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code stated that if a man were to engage in inappropriate acts with another man, he must be imprisoned. The law did not acknowledge lesbians – a separate issue which we need to address further.
LGBTQ+ Community During Nazi Germany
Berlin in the 1930’s was a centre for queer and trans people. Many German cities had a thriving LGBTQ+ culture. After 1933, the Nazis took power and portrayed queer and trans people as morally wrong. A crusade striving towards a ‘pure’ and ‘white’ Germany began. Jewish people and other groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, were framed as a threat by the Nazi government. This led to many queer people entering heterosexual marriages in order to escape discrimination and inhumane violence.
The persecution sought to dissolve homosexual organisations, sending thousands of queer individuals to concentration camps – a known death sentence. Gay men were particularly subjected to additional discrimination, harassment, and even castration. Queer (cis) people were were unable to reproduce and Nazis claimed this to be a contributing factor to the downfall of the ‘Aryan race’. The Nazis categorised LGBTQ+ identities as “immoral behaviour”. Thus, they had to punish them. Nobody was safe from this persecution.
Unfortunately, after World War II ended, neither Germany nor Austria recognised queer and trans prisoners as victims of the Nazis and many were forced to continue serving a prison sentence.
Recent Rise in Antisemitic Violence Against the Jewish Community
Recently, there has been a rise in antisemitism. Since World War II, Germany has made a lot of progress in acknowledging the inhumane crimes committed against the Jewish community. However, there continues to be a lot of antisemitism in Europe as well as around the world. In 2021, over 2,700 antisemitic incidents were reported in Germany. The Anti-Defamation League also found that 2021 was the year with the most antisemitic incidents in the US. Incidents included vandalism, harassment, and violence directed at Jewish people.
The can be no ambiguity that the Holocaust happened. Denying this fact is an outrageous and false attempt to invalidate Jewish people’s experiences. There has been a general increase in hate crimes against the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ and other minority communities in Europe in recent years.
Queer and Jewish activist Matt Bernstein has published several social media posts explaining why the current rise in antisemitism can also be attributed to antisemitic celebrities. People like Ye, aka Kanye West, have an immensely large following. He is currently one of the most famous people in the music industry. His followers and extreme fans can easily be radicalized and inspired to partake in white supremacy and Neo-Nazi behaviours. This is especially the case if the celebrity they look up speaks openly about their antisemitic views against the Jewish community.
Disturbingly, a quarter of Dutch millennials now engage in Holocaust denial. Similar figures are seen in other European countries such as France. In the UK and the US, over 1 in 8 Millennials and Gen Z express similar views.
Addressing Antisemitism and Prejudice
Fighting Holocaust deniers is a vital undertaking to make sure that the horrors of the Holocaust do not repeat themselves in the future. Holocaust denial is a direct attack on the Jewish community and its experiences. However, it is also an attack on the LGBTQ+ community, and other communities such as the Roma and Sinti.
The rise in antisemitism mirrors recent rises in transphobia and homophobia. When society opens the door to prejudice and bigotry, dangerous things can happen.
We need to address and acknowledge the involvement of other countries in antisemitism and the Holocaust. We also need to remember and fight the antisemitism that remains in society today.
As Antisemitism Rises, So Does Transphobia
It is vital that we all stand up for minoritised groups. Just as antisemitism is rearing its head, so are we also witnessing a rise in transphobia and homophobia. It is hard to imagine five years ago a petition to remove LGBT content from UK schools gaining almost a quarter of a million signatures, yet this is where we now find ourselves. Scotland has meanwhile seen an explosion of hate crimes against trans people.
We must promote education; the suppression of knowledge only leads to more bigoted and ignorant attitudes towards marginalised groups. It is extremely important that all of us continue to unlearn our biases. Many refer to antisemitism as a ‘light sleeper’, and this is true of other forms of racial prejudice, transphobia and homophobia.
Minoritised communities are more keenly aware than other communities of the importance of vigilance and standing together against hate. The concept is expressed in one of the poems used to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, the confessional poem ‘First They Came’ by Martin Niemöller.
Let us mark Holocaust Memorial Day! Use it as a vital reminder of the consequences of indulging prejudice and the need for vigilance against the proponents of antisemitism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and all prejudice.