White nationalist movements threatening the legacy of Holocaust victims
TORONTO -- Political scientists and Holocaust survivors feel that emboldened far-right and white supremacist movements across Europe could threaten the memory of the Holocaust victims.
Monday is the grim, 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazis and collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews across German-occupied Europe and Nazi Germany.
The deaths of two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population took place via gas chambers, mass shootings and gas vans in German extermination camps and though a policy of extermination through work in concentration camps.
Today, the watchtowers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp are testaments of torment and terror.
The Nazis also murdered those with perceived racial and biological inferiority including Roma, Germans with disabilities, some Slavic peoples (especially Poles and Russians) and members of the LGBTQ community, according to the U.S. Holocaust memorial Museum.
Following the Second World War, the unimaginable brutality uncovered after the Holocaust sparked a universal pledge from countries to never allow atrocities like that to happen again.
But decades after that pledge, Holocaust survivors such as David Marks and historians fear that pact is in peril from right-wing and white nationalist movements in Europe, which both include a strong element of Holocaust denial.
“We are living in an age of global authoritarianism and a polarizing populism that leads to an assault on human rights,” Jerusalem-based human rights advocate Irwin Cotler told CTV News.
Over the past decade, these fringe groups have held rallies in cities all across Europe and the tide is rising. In more than a dozen countries, including France, the Netherlands and Germany, support for parties that promote xenophobic and racist ideals is growing.
“They are spreading hate and they're mainstreaming ideas that used to be confined to the margins of the political landscape,” said Mathieu Forcier, human rights coordinator at the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
And these fringe political parties can wield tremendous influence, even if their support is marginal.
“They can help form coalition governments with other more mainstream parties, and -- once they form government -- they have the opportunity to translate their points of view into public policy,” political science professor at the University of Toronto Phil Triadafilopoulos said.
“And that can be quite dangerous,” he added.
Their reprehensible rhetoric is leading to a rise in hate crimes across Europe. In France alone, there was a 74 per cent spike in anti-Semitic incidents between 2017 and 2018.
The increase in hate also corresponds with a decrease in the number of Jewish people on the continent overall. There are currently 1.5 million, according to the Conference of European Rabbis, but that’s half a million fewer than two decades ago.