Fighting antisemitism remains challenge 80 years after genocidal Wannsee Conference

Historians, lawmakers and advocacy groups say antisemitism remains a global problem in the wake of the Jan. 15 hostage-taking standoff at a Texas synagogue and 80 years since Nazi leaders conspired to launch the Holocaust.

“We know that antisemitism, including violent antisemitism, did not end in 1945,” said Edna Friedberg, a historian for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “We witnessed it in the terror at a Texas synagogue. Holocaust history reminds us of the terrible dangers of unchecked antisemitism and our collective responsibility to confront it before it becomes violent.”

Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican and co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, said “antisemitism [is] exploding in the United States and around the world” and cited “Wannsee, where top-ranking Nazis plotted a ‘Final Solution’ for Europe’s Jews.”

Mr. Smith and others marked the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference: On Jan. 20, 1942, 15 high-ranking Nazis, led by German Security Service Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, met at a villa in the Wannsee district of Berlin to implement Adolf Hitler’s desire for a “Jew-free” Third Reich. The resulting plans led to the extermination of more than 6 million men, women and children as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”

“The Wannsee Conference was a deadly turning point in Nazi Germany’s campaign against Europe’s Jews,” the Holocaust museum’s Ms. Friedberg said. “After this meeting held at a picturesque lakeside villa the full resources of the German state were mobilized for genocide.”

Antagonism and violence against Jews reverberate today, as seen in this week’s hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, observers said.

Ninety-three percent of American Jews surveyed said they’re concerned about current levels of antisemitism in the United States, with 42% of U.S. Jews reporting they have experienced antisemitism either directly or through family and friends over the past five years alone.

The data comes from a new panel survey commissioned and released Thursday by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a Boston-based charity that numbers among its goals the strengthening of relations between Israel and America’s Jewish community.

“As a Jewish mother, mothering Jewish tweens and teens in this period of U.S. history is simply terrifying,” Shari Dollinger, co-executive director of Christians United for Israel, said in a telephone interview.

Ms. Dollinger said she grew up in Kansas City, and while hers was “a relatively small Jewish community … antisemitism was not a part of our vocabulary, it was not a part of our world.”

According to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the Germany of 2022 still sees antisemitic incidents decades after the defeat of the Nazis.

“Barely a day goes back where there isn’t an antisemitic crime being committed in Berlin. We know the situation here, even before Saturday’s terrorist incident,” Rabbi Cooper said, adding that “we can’t fight this alone. Jews cannot defeat antisemitism, we need our neighbors to engage and to help us push back on that hatred.”

That hatred is growing in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League reports. Crimes targeting the Jewish community make up “more than half of all religion-based crimes,” the group reported in a recent blog post, citing FBI hate crime data.

Kenneth Jacobson, the ADL’s deputy national director, said conditions today have created “the perfect storm for antisemitism.”

Mr. Jacobson said a combination of “polarization, conspiracy theories” as well as a “weak” political center contribute to a climate where antisemitism can flourish.

“Then you have an unedited ingredient of social media, which allows the haters of one kind or another to disseminate their hatred in a way that they didn’t have before,” he added.

According to the Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of the Coalition of Christian Leaders and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, it’s evangelicals who might be among those best able to help combat antisemitism.

“Thankfully, 800 million Evangelicals are a global firewall against antisemitism around the world, but our relationship mustn’t be superficial or sentimental,” Mr. Moore said via email. “It must be informed and genuine.”