“Halle was my home”. This is one of the saddest sentences I have heard in a long time. Max Privorozki said it, the head of Halle’s Jewish community, which only barely escaped a massacre in October. His words express the utter despair at the fact that antisemitism has become a part of daily life for Jews in Germany once again. Every day, Jewish citizens are openly attacked on our streets or threatened and insulted online. There were over 400 such incidents in Berlin alone over a period of six months last year – more than two per day. In light of such figures, it does not surprise me that almost every second Jew in Germany has already thought about leaving the country. But it pains me even more. We urgently need to take action so that such thoughts do not become bitter reality and large numbers of Jews do not leave Germany. It is an absolute nightmare that people of the Jewish faith no longer feel at home here in Germany – and a terrible disgrace 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.
For a long time now, words have no longer been enough. The lives of dozens of people in Halle were saved by a mere wooden door. We need to do more to protect Jewish institutions and communities, not only in Germany, but all over Europe. For this purpose, we will provide the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe with 500,000 euros in 2020.
But more needs to be done. Perpetrators like the one in Halle have international contacts. They become radicalised online, across national borders. And regardless of whether the attacks are on a Jewish museum in Brussels, a kosher supermarket in Paris or a synagogue in Germany, each attack on Jewish life is an attack on Europe as a whole, our culture and our values. Antisemitism contradicts everything that Europe stands for: tolerance, freedom and human dignity.
It is not only because of our history that we Germans have a particular duty here. Our Presidency of the Council of the European Union starts in the summer; in November we will take on the Presidency of the Council of Europe; and in just a few weeks’ time, we will begin chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance for the first time. The fight against antisemitism must be at the top of the agenda in all these institutions.
A bit over a year ago, all EU member states pledged to develop strategies to counter antisemitism. Germany must be a role model in this. Too few member states have national commissioners for the fight against antisemitism. That needs to change. We need a European network of commissioners from all member states to consolidate the fight against antisemitism in a European action plan. This should include criminal prosecution and better protection for Jewish institutions, as well as measures to fight antisemitism through education and integration.
Even before the attack in Halle, we knew that at some point harsh words would be followed by brutal acts. We need to take steps against hate speech as it is becoming ever more blatant – on the internet and social media. During our EU Presidency, we will intensify the fight against online hate crime and disinformation campaigns. Online abuse must be subject to the full force of the law everywhere in Europe.
Nobody can be allowed to deny or play down the worst crime in human history, the Holocaust. The European Court of Human Rights spelt that out once again just a few weeks ago. We are working to ensure that all EU member states finally make it a crime to deny the Holocaust, as they have pledged to do.
And we also want to counter the dangerous lies about the Holocaust and the twisting of facts around the world. To this end, we will set up an international network of experts this year, which will develop counterstrategies - a Global Task Force Against Holocaust Denial.
A third of young Europeans say they know little or nothing about the Holocaust. And this figure is even higher among young Germans. Memories of the murders of millions of people are at risk of fading, in part because unfortunately ever fewer survivors are among us to tell their stories. Education about the Holocaust is thus becoming increasingly important, both through non‑digital and digital means, and from primary school to university. In our German schools abroad we are making this a priority. The Federal Agency for Civic Education should also join forces with its European counterparts to develop joint guidelines for education and information about the Holocaust.
Policymakers need to take more resolute action in the fight against antisemitism. But there is one thing that their actions cannot do; replace the solidarity that arises when each of us takes a stand against antisemitism - on the street, in the schoolyard and on the internet. Only in this way will we convince people like Max Privorozki that Germany and Europe are and will remain their home, that Jews belong here as members of our society and that we are serious when we say now, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, “never again!”