New Brunswick

Antisemitism becoming more visible, says Fredericton Holocaust survivor

This week marks Holocaust Education Week, a week made even more poignant because of increasing number of incidents of antisemitism in Canada.

'I think what we see now is not rising antisemitism, I think what we see now is revealed antisemitism.'

White nationalists saluting a burning swastika in Georgia in 2018. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Fredericton's Israel Unger wasn't very old when the Nazis invaded his native Poland.

While he admits his childhood memories are not very clear, he does remember one thing about growing up as a Jew in that time: an ever-pervasive fear.

"We knew that the Nazis wanted to murder every Jew they could lay their hands on," said Unger. 

"For us, it was simply a matter of when, where and how."

Unger and his family survived the Holocaust by hiding behind a fake wall in the attic of a factory in Tarnow, Poland. More than 10 million people did not survive those years, including at least six million Jews, .

This week marks Holocaust Education Week, a time made even more poignant because of increasing numbers of incidents of antisemitism in Canada.

"I think it's more important than ever being honest," said Naomi Rosenfeld, the executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council. 

"I think that the lessons that can be learned about hatred and discrimination and the importance of human rights are more important now than they've been for a very long time. We're seeing increases in hate and just increases in divides between people, and the Holocaust provides very, very important lessons as to the worst possible consequences of these trends."

Increased or revealed antisemitism

According to B'nai Brith Canada, the year 2020 saw 2,610 recorded incidents of antisemitism.

This marked an 18.3 per cent increase over the previous year.

With increasing instances of anti-semitism, holocaust survivor Israel Unger says it’s important we never forget our history.

Unger said he doesn't believe the increase is because more people are becoming antisemitic. Instead he believes the people who are antisemitic feel more comfortable expressing their hatred.

"I think what we see now is not rising antisemitism, I think what we see now is revealed antisemitism," said Unger. 

"What we see now is that antisemitism never went away. It just wasn't polite any longer. Today, it's been OK to talk about to have antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism or anti-Israel."

Right and left problem

Antisemitism on the right has become more public over the past few years.

During 2017's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist marchers were recorded chanting "Jews will not replace us."

In the run-up and aftermath of the January 6th insurrection in Washington, there was an increase in antisemitic slogans.

This included people posting on social media, and chanting, "6MWE" which means "six million wasn't enough," a reference to the approximate number of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

But Unger said he doesn't feel like the vast majority of people will be taken in by antisemites on the right.

“I think that the lessons that can be learned about hatred and discrimination and the importance of human rights are more important now than they've been for a very long time," said Naomi Rosenfeld, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council. (CBC)

"The extreme right, guys with tattooed swastikas, most of civil society recognizes them for what they are and then don't pay any attention to them," said Unger

Instead, it's antisemitism on the left that concerns Unger the most.

"They come under the guise of looking for justice and equity and all the good things," said Unger. 

"Civil society, whether they support them or not, say, 'Oh well, these people have good intentions. I don't support them because I think they're too extreme, but they have good intentions.'"

Rosenfeld said no political ideology has a monopoly on antisemitism.

"Antisemitics is a virus that mutates and does not contain to a single political spectrum or a single demographic," said Rosenfeld. 

"We're seeing it pop up from all sorts of different sides. So left-wing, right-wing, different parts of society, different groups."

“What we see now is that antisemitism never went away. It just wasn't polite any longer," said Holocaust survivor Israel Unger. (YouTube)

Incidents of antisemitism grew last spring during the latest Israel–Palestine crisis. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried out rocket attacks on Israel, while the Israeli Air Force made airstrikes on Palestinian territories.

In May, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs raised alarms about an increase in antisemitic attacks related to the conflict.

Education

Unger, who was a professor at the University of New Brunswick, said he believes education is the key to stomping out antisemitic attitudes.

And he's happy to say that many organizations in Fredericton are keen to learn more about the Holocaust.

"I believe education is the best antidote," said Unger.

"That is the best antidote … It doesn't just apply to antisemitism. Antisemitism is one of the most virulent forms of hatred, but it applies to all varieties of hatred."

The youngest Holocaust survivors are now in their late-70s, so there are fewer survivors to tell their stories.

Rosenfeld said something will be lost when the last survivor dies, but work is being done to preserve their stories.

"I would encourage everyone while we still can to come out and hear survivors speak," said Rosenfeld.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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