Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Jews’

Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th January, 2019

auschwitz entranceOn this day we remember the six million Jews exterminated by the Nazis in Germany and the occupied territories, along with the Roma, disabled and LGBT people deemed imperfect or undesirable by the Third Reich. I was born five years after the War, but during my childhood the black and white pictures of Auschwitz and other death camps were a shocking reminder of what had happened not that long before. The slogan “Never Again” was popularised and for me came to embrace much more than concentration camps, as I hated the whole idea of war as well — especially the mindless death mill of the Western Front in the First World War and the millions of civilian casualties in the Second, along with the wholesale destruction of historic cities, their art and civilization. That is why I became such a strong supporter of the European Union — the European Project — as it developed, creating a Europe in which Never Again could be a reality, though on the fringes of the EU terrible things did happen, such as the massacre of young Muslims by Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995.

bosnia intenment cmpGenocide has reared its head in many parts of the world, from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the machete slaughter of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda. That is why Holocaust Memorial Day is so important, to remind us constantly of the barbarity that can be part of the human condition unless people are educated and structures put in place to make it impossible. I have often heard people in Britain saying complacently that it could never happen here, but such confidence is misplaced. Had the Nazis occupied mainland Britain I am sure they would have found some people willing to help them with their dirty work. If you don’t believe me, look at the hatred on the faces of some of the far right demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent months, their intimidation of people they disagree with and the callous attitude to refugees and migrants rising their lives to get into Europe or across the Channel into Britain. “Let them drown!” I have heard people say, their “patriotic” sense of entitlement driving them to repel all boarders, cheered on by the more disgusting elements of the popular Press. For some Brits, “migrants” are not human, and once you start to dehumanise groups of people you have started on the slippery slope that can lead to genocide. The evidence is there; it has happened before.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th January, 2015

Karel BaracsEvery year on Holocaust Memorial Day I go to a commemoration of some kind, usually at an embassy of one of the central or eastern European states, but this year was special — and not only because the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was being marked. Europe House, the London offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament, housed a remarkable show this evening: Why Tram 8 No Longer Runs. A monologue by the self-styled Story-teller of Amsterdam, Karel Baracs, with musical accompaniment, recounts the true story of how two young Dutch women — one Karel’s mother — managed to spirit 80 Jewish children out of a creche set up by the Nazis prior to their intended deportation and extermination, one or two at a time. In particular the narration focussed on the experience of a six-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother taken to safety to live on the farm of a gentile couple, with the active participation of a Jewish man who had been hiding in a basement in Amsterdam for months — and who after the War married Karel’s mother. As with all good storytelling, the facts only emerge gradually, amidst passages of suspense and moments of humorous relief. The tragic back-story is that most if not all of the parents of the rescued children did perish in concentration camps or under other dreadful conditions. There are bad guys among the Dutch, as well as heroes, in the story, as well as one good German soldier, who played a crucial role in ensuring the two infants and Karel’s father survived. These are the sort of stories that must never be forgotten, even as the last Holocaust survivors die out and it was a wonderful tribute, as well as a moving performance, to have a descendant keeping the flame of memory so brilliantly alive.

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Little Christmas Joy in the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd December, 2014

imageAs hundreds of millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, spare more than a thought for the Christians of the Middle East, for many of whom 2014 has been a dire year. Two of the most vibrant Christian communities, in Iraq and Syria, have been traumatised by violent conflict, dispossession and displacement. And in Israel/Palestine, the fount of the faith, Christians are feeling under ever greater pressure to leave. The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza may be over, but its effects are still there, and in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem Christians and Muslims alike continue to suffer from the excesses of the occupying forces and the more extreme fringe of Israeli “settlers”. The symbolic confrontation between Palestinians dressed as Santa Claus and IDF soldiers has become almost ritualistic, but there is nothing joyful in the real gulf that still separates the people in the Holy Land. The rise of ISIS has undoubtedly made things worse across the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, but no one actor in the region’s turmoil is to blame alone. If Christians are to have a future in the Middle East, as they should, along with the other two Abrahamic faiths, then there needs to be a massive change of heart among political and religious leaders, as well as ordinary people, and an acknowledgement that what unites us all should be much stronger than that which divides.

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There Is No Excuse for Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st February, 2009

200px-nicolas_maduro An armed gang has broken into the oldest synagogue in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, desecreating the building and calling for Jews to be expelled from the country. This follows the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador and his staff by President Hugo Chavez in protest at the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, but the Venezuelan government has been quick to denounce the synagogue attack, in which the walls were daubed with anti-Semitiuc and anti-Israel slogans. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned this ‘criminal act of vandalism’, adding, ‘we call on all the Venezuelan people, the entire Venezuerlan community, to reject these actions, with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinian people.’

There has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the world, including Britain, since the Israeli assault on Gaza. But the one does not justify the other. Attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions now are as vilely inappropriate as assaults on Muslims and Islamic institutions were in the wake of 9/11. Only four days ago in the United Kingdom we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, reminding ourselves of the horrific extremes to which anti-Semitism can go and the obscenity of genocide against any people. I don’t often agree with the rhetoric of Venezuela’s radical socialist government, but in this case Minister Maduro got it right. Just as we should morally condemn killings and abuses against Palestinians, so we should decry assaults on Jews.

(photo of Nicolas Maduro)

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