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EU commemorates 80 years since Nazi Kristallnacht

© US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Synagogue in Aachen destroyed on Kristallnacht
© US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published today, on the 80th anniversary of Nazi-Germany’s pogrom against its Jewish population, a report on reporting of anti-Semitism in EU member states. The pogrom took place on the night between 9 and 10 November 1938 and was called Kristallnacht because of the broken glass from smashed windows and burned stores and synagogues.

The agency’s annual review underlines the problems of limited data that hinders effective responses to tackle anti-Semitism in Europe today. Official data from law enforcement agencies and other authorities on anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes for 2017 were missing in Ireland, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom.

Asked by The Brussels Times for an explanation, a source in the agency replied than in most cases data have been collected but are published with a delay.

Two countries, Hungary and Malta, do not publish any data on anti-Semitism because they do not disaggregate the data by motivation. This runs the risk that bias elements of crimes will disappear, and that anti-Semitic crimes will not be investigated and prosecuted as such. The situation in Hungary where the nationalist government has used anti-Semitic themes in election campaigns is especially worrying.

Germany has seen a slight increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents with 1 504 incidents in 2017 despite strict legislation against hate crimes. The number in France was 311, the lowest number in the last 10 years, with separate trends for anti-Semitic actions and threats. On Friday, the French prime minister warned against an increase this year.

In Poland the number of recorded anti-Semitic incidents decreased to 73 in 2017 but the number is likely to have increased this year in the wake of the debate on the law criminalising statements on Poland’s role in the Holocaust.

In Belgium the number of reported incidents in 2017 was 12. A number of countries do publish figures but they are 0 or 1. Can these figures be trusted?

“Generally speaking, there is high under-reporting of anti-Semitic and other bias-motivated incidents to authorities or any other organisation,” replies the agency. “Victimisation surveys reveal significant gaps between minorities’ actual experiences and what is reported to authorities. It is estimated that approximately 90% of anti-Semitic incidents are never reported.”

In a previous survey, the agency reported that two thirds of Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a problem and three fourths believe that anti-Semitism has increased over the last five years in their country. A second survey will be published by the agency on 10 December.

There is a Council Framework Decision from 2008 on combating racism and xenophobia but it has not been properly implemented in some member states. “Without proper legislation, hate crime cannot be properly addressed. But even member states that have transposed the Framework Decision encounter difficulties implementing it effectively.”

The agency adds that other sources show that of the few hate crime cases reported to police only a minority is prosecuted as such—with an even smaller minority of offenders sentenced. More generally, difficulties collecting quality hate crime data, including on anti-Semitism, are common across the EU.

The state-sponsored violence on the Kristallnacht by Nazi paramilitary forces and civilians left hundreds of Jews dead and thousands imprisoned and sent to concentration camps. Synagogues were burnt and Jewish-owned businesses looted all over Nazi-Germany. The Jewish community was forced to pay a collective fine of 1 billion marks to the Nazi government.

In a statement the European Commission says that “around thirty thousand Jewish people were deported during the ‘Kristallnacht’, an event which marked the beginning of the Holocaust and the extermination of six million Jews. Today we must pause and reflect on these events, and to remind ourselves of why we must do everything in our power to prevent this from ever happening again.”

“There is reason to be vigilant,” states the Commission, “for despite the horrors of our past, recent developments show that anti-Semitism is still present in our society; there are still individuals who deny that these events even took place…Hatred started with words and ended in violence. And we are seeing that tendency again through the shocking murders in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen, and most recently in Pittsburgh in the United States.”

“We cannot allow our society to suffer from collective amnesia. We have a duty to continuously teach our young generations about this and how to tame Europe’s inner demons – so that nobody forgets. This is why we have dedicated funding for European remembrance, and why the Commission helps raise awareness and educate people about the Holocaust.”

The Brussels Times