In 2005, the United Nations voted to establish an annual Holocaust Day of Remembrance. That day is January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, by the Red Army in 1945.
Last year on my radio programme, I took a call from a man called Bob. He rang, as a retired lawyer, with some legal advice over a matter being discussed. When I dug deeper, he revealed that both he and his wife were Holocaust survivors. Consequently, I invited him into the studio the next week… his story was riveting. Through that meeting, I participated with Bob and Freda in this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day.
New Zealand has largely been spared the ugliness of anti-Semitism that has beleaguered much of the world, but there are traces of it in this country. The question is will it remain so.
With the passing of the UN remembrance day, there has been considerable attention paid to the hatred which is on the rise. Europe has never escaped it. England is where I first became aware of it, not literally, but in the form of "classic" comics. At about 13, I read of the pogroms in the Middle Ages. Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
The next step for me was school history, which taught me the facts of the Holocaust, but not the accompanying emotion. That came with time. "Starting in the early hours of 10 November 1938, and through until nightfall, across Germany, tens of thousands of Jewish shops and homes were trashed. More than a thousand synagogues were set on fire and destroyed. Within 24 hours, 30,000 Jewish men from 16-60 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. It was called Kristallnacht: the night of broken glass. It was the prelude to the Holocaust and a warning of what happens when a society falls victim to its baser instinct"... (adapted from Kristallnacht, Sir Martin Gilbert, Hodder 2005). Which is why the phrase "never again". And it could never happen again, could it…
There is now growing concern over political and social developments across the globe. If anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine, those worries may be warranted. Australia is reporting an uptick. Dvir Abramovich, from The Anti-Defamation Commission, says "the growing virus of anti-Semitism is alive and well with incidents the past year being the highest on record. No longer history, anti-Semitism has become a routine story, a current event, and I am deeply worried." In 2017, posters appeared in Sydney with slogans calling for the execution of Jews and gays. More recently, the posters have turned up in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart. That is not to say that this is widespread, but the police were reported as saying there was nothing they could do. This last week, a Melbourne rabbi was subjected to a road rage tirade. I don't need to repeat the commentary, but it was vile. Inevitably, it was filmed on someone's camera.
In the UK, "Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock and the anti-Semites crawled out from underneath the rock. They are not going back." These words from a London lawyer who has now moved to Israel. Mark Lewis also said that social media had caused so much harm. He told Israel's Channel 10 news "Europe in my view is finished" and "we are a wandering people. It is time for us to wander again." Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe, found this comment to be "as sobering and disturbing a phrase as I have heard…and should be thought upon by anybody who still cares to think."
Across the Atlantic, historian Victor Davis Hanson refers to a point of change about 10 years ago. Since then "we have seen an emerging new anti-Semitism …that has become deeply embedded in popular culture and is now rebranded with acceptable cool among America's historically ignorant youth." Rap and hip-hop routinely incorporate anti-Semitic lyrics. Now it also sports icons and other assorted social influencers moulding attitudes. Not to forget the new young politicians. Both state and federal. Mainstream black leaders, i.e. members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Keith Ellison and Barack Obama, have appeared on stage and done the smiley photo op with Louis Farrakhan. He, probably, the most odious anti-Semite in America.
And let me throw in some in the new set of nonsense catchwords, like intersectional, woke, and contextualised. Spare me. But get used to those words. They are coming your way. Which returns us to the question, will these issues remain low level in New Zealand? I am happy to speak on behalf of all of us and say, I hope so. But there are disrupters.
Social media. Go back 30 years when political correctness was emerging. Won't happen here, I was told by many. Ya think? With social media eliminating barriers between cultures and countries, I would rule out nothing in the spread of stupidity.
The rapid increase in population via migration will present challenges.
Education, in my opinion, is failing youth in New Zealand. Particularly the lack of in-depth teaching of history. Forget not the lessons of the past.
• Listen to the Leighton Smith Podcast is at newstalkzb.co.nz, and nzherald.co.nz and on iHeart Radio.