These schizophrenic results should not be construed as revealing the dark heart of Europe. Europeans are in fact no more hypocritical than Americans who regret the genocide of Native Americans, yet would refuse to share their homes with the descendants of the Sioux and Apaches. Instead, this situation should ring alarm bells over the Jewish failure to educate Europeans about Judaism.
European Jewish communities and organizations should rethink the image they want to convey of Judaism. It is a tragic by-product of Holocaust education that most Europeans associate Jews almost exclusively with the Holocaust. The people that gave Europeans Spinoza, Mahler, Freud, and Einstein should not be defined by its victimhood in death camps.
Indeed, to let the Holocaust define the European image of Jews is counterproductive on various levels. To reduce the millenary Jewish European experience to the years 1933-1945, ignores the rich history of spiritual, cultural and social relations on the continent. Many Europeans still view Jews as the quintessential “Other”, yet Europe deprived of its Jewish roots is unthinkable. Europeans need to understand this by being exposed to the Jewish contribution to European history, starting from the Bible.
Cultural identity defined by tragedy
Furthermore, emphasizing the Holocaust has rendered the Jewish identity burdensome for many Jews. It is one thing to never forget and quite another to let one’s cultural identity be defined by tragedy. This does not apply only to Diaspora Jews, but also to Israeli Jews, too many of whom believe that Zionism owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust, rather than to the ancient spiritual and historical bond of Jews to the Land of Israel.
Thirdly, the current emphasis on exposure to Jews via Holocaust education is actually fueling anti-Semitism in Europe. Europeans spend one day a year being reminded about the liberation of Auschwitz and about their grandparents’ sympathy/complicity/silence to the Holocaust. They react by assailing Israel the other 364 days for its alleged Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians.
None of these consequences are desirable for Europeans, Jews or Israelis. The time has come to reassess whether Hitler should be allowed to define the European Jewish experience. Europeans need to celebrate Jewish culture and Jewish values. This celebration takes place in America, Canada and Australia and explains why in these countries anti-Semitism is almost absent. We owe it to all those who perished during World War II to celebrate Jewish life and hope in Europe at least as often as we mourn the victims of Nazi folly.
Rafael Castro was born in Italy and currently resides in Berlin