French Holocaust survivors are recoiling at new antisemitism, and activists are pleading for peace

Posted 11/18/23

Survivors of Nazi atrocities have joined young Jewish activists in Paris to sound the alarm about resurgent antisemitic hate speech, graffiti and abuse linked to the Israel-Hamas war. The impact of …

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French Holocaust survivors are recoiling at new antisemitism, and activists are pleading for peace

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PARIS (AP) — Survivors of Nazi atrocities joined young Jewish activists outside the Paris Holocaust memorial Saturday to sound the alarm about resurgent antisemitic hate speech, graffiti and abuse linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

The impact of the conflict is drawing increasing concern in France and beyond. Thousands of pro-Palestinian and left-wing activists rallied in Paris and around Britain on Saturday to call for a cease-fire, the latest of several such protests in major cities around the world since the war began.

France is home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel and the U.S., and western Europe's largest Muslim population. The war has re-opened the doors to anti-Jewish sentiment in a country whose wartime collaboration with the Nazis left deep scars. Some 100,000 people marched through Paris last week to denounce antisemitism.

Esther Senot, 96, said the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 stirred up her memories of World War II.

“Massacres like that, I have lived through,″ she said at the Paris Holocaust Memorial. ’’I saw people die in front of me.″

Her sister was among them: ‘’They brought her to the gas chamber in front of my eyes,’’ she said.

Most of Senot’s family members died. She survived 17 months in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps and made it back to France at age 17, weighing just 32 kilograms (70 pounds).

Senot was speaking at an event organized by Jewish youth organization Hachomer Hatzai, at which teenage activists drew parallels between what’s happening now and the leadup to World War II. They held a sign saying ’’We will not let history repeat itself.″

France’s Interior Ministry said this week that 1,762 antisemitic acts have been reported this year, as well as 131 anti-Muslim acts and 564 anti-Christian acts. Half of the antisemitic acts involve graffiti, posters or protest banners bearing Nazi symbols or violent anti-Jewish messages. They also include physical attacks on people and Jewish sites, and online threats. Most were registered after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the ministry said.

Serge Klarsfeld, a renowned Nazi hunter and head of the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France, noted that anger at the Israeli government’s actions often gets mixed with anti-Jewish sentiment. While he is concerned about the current atmosphere in France, he sought to put it in perspective.

“Certainly there are antisemitic acts (in France), but they are not at an urgent level,” he said. He expressed hope in ’’the wisdom of the two communities, who know how lucky they are to live in this exceptional country.”

France has citizens directly affected by the war: The initial Hamas attack killed 40 French people, and French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu is shuttling around the Middle East this week to try to negotiate the release of eight French citizens held hostage by Hamas.

Two French children have also been killed in Israel’s subsequent offensive on Gaza, according to the Foreign Ministry, which is pushing for humanitarian help for Gaza’s civilians.

On Sunday, hundreds of French entertainment stars from different cultural and religious backgrounds plan a silent march in central Paris to call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. They will march from the Arab World Institute to the Museum of Art and History of Judaism.

Like France and some other countries, Britain has seen protests to demand a cease-fire each weekend since the war began. Organizers from Palestinian organizations and left-wing groups said rallies and marches were held in dozens of towns and cities across the U.K. on Saturday.

Some staged sit-in protests in busy railway stations, while hundreds of people demonstrated outside the north London office of opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer. His refusal to call for a cease-fire and instead to advocate a “humanitarian pause” has angered some members of the left-of-center party.

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Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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