Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt Muli Hershkovitz

Today, on Wednesday, at the invitation of David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), addressed the European Parliament in remembrance of the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution, and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, on the occasion of the International Holocaust Commemoration Day.

Below is the rabbi's full speech:

"My friend, President of the European Parliament, Mr David Sassoli, Members of Parliament, dear survivors and dear friends.

I would like to thank you for according me this great honor and privilege to address the European Parliament today.

Seventy-seven years have passed since a cattle train brought Jacob and Mariam Schwartz, my great-grandparents, from a little village near Nyiregyhaza in Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On a clear summer's day in May, hungry and thirsty, scared and soiled from a three-day train ride, they were sent to the gas chambers and cremated. Dozens of members of my mother's family from Hungary, men, women and children, were amongst the 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz. Less than one year later, on this date, the 27th of January, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by the Red Army, but very few survivors were found: Almost all of the inmates had been eliminated through the gas chambers, disease and death marches. All those who perished in the Holocaust, among them Jacob and Mariam Schwartz, poor peddlers from Nyriegyhaza were put to death, their only sin, being part of a minority, which spoke a different language, celebrated different festivals, and dressed differently than the surrounding people. My grandfather survived, because he was far away in a yeshiva, while his family was rounded up and sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

As a Jew, I mourn for the six million victims of the Sho’a at the fast of the 9th of Av, the national mourning day for all the martyrs of Israel’s destruction, from the Babylonian exile through the crusades, the inquisition and pogroms of Chemlinitzky till the Shoah. However, today the 27th of January I mourn as a European. I remember the atrocities and crimes against the entire humanity, the millions of victims and the endless suffering. On this day I remember the righteous among the nations who risked their lives to save some of the persecuted.

Most of the almost ten million Jews in pre-Holocaust Europe did their best to integrate and even assimilate into modern Europe, becoming its writers, philosophers, psychologists, doctors, industrialists, poets, artists, scientists, politicians and actors. Their dream was to become part of modern Europe which again reinvented itself after the second industrial revolution. However, the dreams of Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Rosa Luxemburg, Moses Mendelsohn, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Amadeo Modigliani, Albert Einstein, and millions of other Jews were shattered with the onslaught of Nazism and fascism. At the end of WWII, a large proportion of Holocaust survivors felt that there was no Jewish future in Europe. The majority emigrated to Palestine to be a part of the new State, where Jews would always be welcome. Others emigrated to the Americas, with only a minority remaining in Europe, holding on to the belief that they could rebuild a Jewish future. Millions of Jews were kept against their will in the Warsaw pact countries, the remnants of their communal and private lives, governed by Stalin’s anti-Semitic totalitarianism.

Today many of Europe’s remaining 1.6 million Jews are the descendants of Holocaust survivors, whose decision to stay in Europe was an individual one, based on personal circumstances. For Jews the hope of a better future in Europe was anchored in the new structures and values being developed in Europe, ensuring a future without wars, pogroms, hate and anti-Semitism. What went on to become the EU, was founded as an economic union, with the central aim, of ending the constant state of war and competition between the major powers.

The European Union, according to former European Commission President Romano Prodi, is an assembly of minorities, which helped Europe's Jews to take part in this process, not as outsiders, but as fully fledged citizens of Europe. This new Europe would guarantee a Jewish future by being based on the liberal democratic principles guaranteeing the physical safety and the freedom of faith for Jews. However, many Jews after the Shoah decided to live their Judaism privately and quietly, never trying again to occupy the public political sphere, and trying not to stand out from the majority. Today, Europe is again at crossroads, testing its resilience and its values. The immigration of millions of Muslims from the Middle East is testing Europe again. The wave of Islamic fundamentalist terror and the uncontrolled waves of immigrants shook Europe to the core. New security measures and new enhanced cooperation between the security agencies of the member states had to be put into place, in order to restore security to this continent. But as the anger against the new immigrants grew, a broadside counter attack against religious minorities formed the political landscape of the European Union.

The question we should ask ourselves is, are we going to go the same way as Europe did, almost one century ago, destroying the beautiful mosaic of European cultures? Or are we going to rise to the challenge, defend our liberties and values for all, demand security and adherence to our laws, while guaranteeing the cherished freedoms, liberal democracies are built upon?

We are witnessing with sadness that more and more countries are in the process of legislating new restrictions against the Jewish community of Europe, curtailing the freedom of faith, Jews have enjoyed in Europe for most of a millenium. One of the first laws enacted by Nazi Germany against the Jews on the 21st of April 1933, was the prohibition against kosher slaughter, with the thought to make life as difficult as possible for Jews and get them to emigrate. The same law was enacted again last year in Wallonia and Flanders, maybe not with the same intentions, but definitely with the same results. In Iceland, Scandinavia and Finland citizens are pushing legislation to outlaw circumcision, proposing a six year jail sentence for a Jewish parent who will circumcise their child. In Soviet Russia, the punishment was only five years for the same offense, recognizing of course that a Finnish jail is a five star hotel compared to a Russian prison , where Alexei Navalny is currently being held. We know that we are not the principal targets of these laws, but we are definitely the collateral victims.

My friends, I would like to ask you, is this really what Europe wants, to emulate and copy militant secularist restrictions of the Soviet Union against religion? The European Union is currently in the process of suing and imposing sanctions against member states, which deviated from the principles of liberal democracies, by infringing on the independence of the judiciary and of the free press. However, let me be clear: States, which restrict minority religious freedoms are not any better and are also deviating from the basic principles and values, on which post-Holocaust Europe has been built on.

After Charlie Hebdo and repeated attacks on synagogues, kosher supermarkets and schools, many European politicians have announced that Europe without Jews is not Europe , even appointing special envoys to support a Jewish future, but at the same time, these political leaders endorsed legislation, restricting the freedom of Jewish religious practice. Let me say this today, on the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance, here in the European Parliament, in Brussels. These declarations are totally worthless and hypocritical. Legislation against religion in Europe has to stop! It is the only continent in the world where such initiatives are taking place. I am turning to you my friend, Mr Sasoli, president of the European Parliament: if Europe wants its remaining Jews to stay in Europe, enshrine the rights of minority religions to practice their faith, the same it was done in Germany and Austria, two countries in Europe, where the numbers of Jews are actually growing.

The COVID-19 Virus is the biggest challenge humanity has faced since WWII. The virus killed millions, wrecked economies and disrupted the lives of everyone. Grandparents cannot kiss their grandchildren, houses of worship are empty, hospitals are filled to capacity and everyone sees in his neighbor a potential threat. Populism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism have again raised their heads, adding to the turbulence Europe is going through.

Europe historically had the ability to reinvent itself and redefine itself times again and again. Today, in the midst of this terrible COVID19 pandemic, the time has come for Europe to redefine itself and reinvent itself, as the greatest union of states providing stability, security, freedom, prosperity and peace. A new dialogue with Europe’s new and old religions has to be initiated, in order to maintain the core European values. Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the German Bundestag in 2011, stated that Europe’s heritage was based on three foundations, the Torah from Jerusalem, the philosophy from Greece and the politics from Rome. Based on these values we have to find a new way to ensure the success of the European experiment.

The EU under the German presidency in December of last year, presented a declaration against anti-Semitism and guaranteeing a Jewish future. Of course, the physical safety of the Jewish community is of primary importance, so is the constant vigilance against attacks from Muslim fundamentalists and Extreme right wingers like a year and a half ago in Halle, Germany. Much of the anti-Semitism today comes through the platforms of the social media and these have to be more regulated. The annual report on anti-Semitism of Tel Aviv University gave us some good news. There was a 50% reduction of anti-Semitic tweets on Twitter; and no Jew was killed in an anti-Semitic attack in Europe last year. However, if the freedom of religion will not be guaranteed in Europe, the descendants of Yaacov and Mariam Schwartz and so also the other 1.6 million Jews in Europe will have great difficulty in making Europe their home and believing in a secure Jewish future.

Thank you again for inviting me to address the European Parliament.

Thank you very much for listening."