Ahead of a landmark global conference, top Jewish and Swedish leaders joined at Malmö Synagogue today to celebrate the history and life of the local Jewish community, especially its resilience during a period of heightened antisemitism in the region.
The synagogue event, hosted by the World Jewish Congress, along with the Official
Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the Jewish Community of Malmö, was held the day before the Oct. 13 Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.
The international forum, to be attended by heads of state or government of some 50 countries, will focus on identifying and implementing concrete steps to counter antisemitism and other forms of hatred and to advance Holocaust education and remembrance.
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Jewish communal leaders shared their insights at Tuesday’s synagogue gathering about the rich history of the Jews of Sweden and next steps in fighting current-day expressions of hatred against Jews at the local and national levels.
In his remarks at the synagogue, Amb. Lauder said: “I have been dealing with antisemitism since I became involved in the Jewish world. That’s most of my adult life. I’ve witnessed it, I’ve talked to too many victims of antisemitism. I’ve also been the target of it, myself. I have seen people lose their lives … because they happened to be Jewish.”
He added, “All schoolchildren must learn about the Holocaust and understand how it came about and where hatred ultimately leads.” He went on to advocate for a national holiday on January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, for schools worldwide to teach about the Holocaust.
“There is still so much to be done. I am not naïve; I realize the hatred of Jews has been with us for 2,000 years and will never completely go away. But we can do everything in our power to keep this virus from spreading. We applaud the Swedish Prime Minister and the government for taking the first steps. And I thank you for your help with the Jewish community here in protecting its synagogues, its school and its people,” Amb. Lauder said.
Amb. Lauder also said, “I am aware that a just and reasonable settlement must be found with the Palestinian people. I have pursued a two-state solution for years and I have never given up on this idea. Two states for two people is the only way that this long conflict can finally come to a just conclusion.”
In recent years, anti-Semitism has occurred regularly in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, especially in its schools, and has gained international attention. Sweden’s top leaders have pledged to devote resources to democracy-strengthening initiatives in schools and other educational venues. At the end of March 2022, the country will assume the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and has pledged to open the Swedish Museum of the Holocaust by July 2022.
“This week we are gathering here in Malmö to remember history’s darkest chapter, humanity’s darkest chapter,” Löfven said. “It didn’t take place on Swedish soil; however, when Jews started leaving Germany following 1933, most countries, Sweden included, were reluctant to accept more than a handful of Jewish refugees.”
He also said, “Every Shabbat candle lit, every song in Yiddish or Ladino and every Swedish Jew who wears a kippah or a Star of David with pride is a stance against hate.”
Dr. Nachman Shai, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, told the audience that Israel stood behind the Malmö Jewish community.
“It is the right of every Jewish individual to live full and proud Jewish lives wherever they choose,” he said. “Additionally, you should have the opportunity to proudly and actively have relationships with Israel … without being questioned.”
Ann Katina, chair of the Jewish Community of Malmö, emceed the ceremony while discussing the vibrant history of Jewish life in Malmö. The community will celebrate its 150th anniversary next month.
“Jewish life in Sweden is more than antisemitism,” Katina said, adding that a Jewish learning center will open in the synagogue “with the aim of increasing the knowledge of Jewish culture, religion, history, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.” She joined Aron Verständig, Chair of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, in thanking the local community for its support and dedication to education.
Immediately after the close of the Oct. 13 forum, Amb. Lauder and Prime Minister Löfven will join a Holocaust survivor representing the Malmö Jewish community to reflect on the proceedings and to continue the conversation about how to end antisemitism. Media wishing to attend this event must already be credentialed to attend the Malmö Forum.
Also, after Wednesday’s conference, WJC’s international meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism (SECCA) will convene to exchange views, share best practices and policies and evaluate progress in the shared fight against anti-Semitism. The SECCA forum comprises officials tasked with combating antisemitism, with participants from dozens of countries and from such organizations as the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United Nations.