Sputnik: Survey results say that over a third interviewed admitted that they knew little about the Nazi crimes against Jewish people during World War II. It appears that there is rather widespread lack of education regarding these things, especially among young people. What is behind this lack of knowledge?
Fiona Sharpe: I think that as time passes there is less of a focus on the systematic slaughter of Jewish communities and others during the Holocaust and more emphasis on universal nature of hatred and discrimination. The horrors of the brutality of the Nazi regime have been sanitised.
Also, obviously, as the years go by, there are fewer survivors to give first-person accounts. I think young people are no longer as aware as they used to be that while there were other groups of people targeted by the Nazis, the Final Solution was about ridding Germany, and all those countries Hitler invaded, of Jews.
Sputnik: How can governments improve people's knowledge about WWII and the Holocaust?
Fiona Sharpe: I think that governments have an obligation to ensure that Holocaust education is an integral part of the school curriculum. Support for organisations such as the Holocaust Education Trust in the UK is vital as they organise trips for young people to Auschwitz and other camps to see the reality of the Holocaust. They also have survivors who volunteer for them who are able to go into schools and youth groups to share their experiences.
Sputnik: Over 30 percent of the Europeans surveyed stated that Jews use the Holocaust ‘to advance their position or achieve certain goals'. How is this possible for a region that suffered from Nazi crimes just 70 years ago?
Fiona Sharpe: Short memories! I honestly can't explain this kind of mentality. It is a case of victim blaming. But it does show how we need to improve the type of education that we are providing to young people.
Sputnik: How do you assess the level of anti-Semitism in Europe? Is there anything Jewish people should be concerned about?
Fiona Sharpe: I think that Jewish communities across Europe have much to be concerned about. We have the rise of the far-right and the far-left, both of whom adopt antisemitic positions. We see the growing normalisation of anti-Zionism and the demonisation of Israel, which is often just a cover for antisemitism. In the UK there are increasing numbers of Jewish people who are very concerned about antisemitism within the Labour Party and what might happen were Jeremy Corbyn to be elected.
People joke that Jews are paranoid but we have good reason to be. The Holocaust was only 70 years ago. While most countries have hate legislation and there are laws to protect all minority communities, I think it is fair to say that the increase in antisemitism and the tolerance for it, is very real and we can't afford to be complacent and not to call it out wherever we see it.Over Third of Europeans Know Little or Nothing About Holocaust — Poll
Sputnik: Can we assume that such public sentiments will increase the number of so-called Holocaust deniers?
Fiona Sharpe: I don't think we can assume but there is every indication that as people become less ‘connected' to the Holocaust and more cynical about the reality of WWII, that those who try to minimise the Holocaust and to even deny it happened, will find a larger audience. But I do think that Holocaust deniers are still in a category with the conspiracy theorists and flat-earthers.
Sputnik: How should European Jews react to this information?
Fiona Sharpe: With concern. These figures are worrying. I think we need to be vigilant and alert to what is going on around us. We need to be willing to stand up for what we believe, we need to be less tolerant of hate and we need to ensure that history is not whitewashed or sanitised.
Sputnik: The survey also stated that over one fifth believe that Jewish people have too much influence on finance and politics. What is your take on this idea?
Fiona Sharpe: These views are the traditional tropes of antisemitism dating back to the 1930s. The notion of the all-powerful Jews who control the media, banking, big business and politics continue to be peddled out by those trying to find ‘justification' for their antisemitic views. It is, of course, just a myth and highly offensive. Were it to be true in the UK, we certainly wouldn't be having the problems in the Labour Party that we are seeing.
Sputnik: Why are these ideas even present in society?
Fiona Sharpe: That's a good question. I'm not really sure but history shows that sadly, Jews have always been scapegoated. I think it is human nature to want to find someone to bully and minorities are always an easy target. We see growing antisemitism, Islamaphobia and misogyny in society today. Social media has given people the opportunity to share offensive views and opinions anonymously with very little censorship. Views that were only ever shared behind closed doors 20 years ago now find a home and an audience on social media.
This emboldens people to say increasingly offensive things and to spread their hate. But it is important to remember that we have never had greater legal protection for minorities across Europe and there are more organisations monitoring hate, and particularly antisemitism, than ever before. It is our job to expose this virulent hatred and those who engage in spreading it. It is no longer good enough to be a bystander, we must be upstanders and call out any kind of racism, bigotry and antisemitism that we see.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.