Belle Jarniewski spoke about the roots of antisemitism and what can be done to stem the hatred at Diversitas on March 28. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)
With the rise of antisemitism around the world, the most recent Diversitas speaker said reflection is needed to dispel it.
Belle Jarniewski presented a thorough history of antisemitism at the latest Diversitas event on March 28 at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. Her hope was to connect the historical roots of antisemitism with the modern rise of antisemitism.
Calling it “the longest hatred,” Jarniewski traced the roots of antisemitism back to ancient Greece and through to the present day. Over time, she noted the many stereotypes and perceptions people had of Jews, including the fact that they were blamed for spreading diseases such as the Black Plague and, in more recent years, H1N1.
Jarniewski is the Director of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, and served as its Chair from 2008 to 2018. In 2010 she published a book called Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors, which documented the stories of 73 local survivors. She is also the child of two Shoah survivors.
Her father survived six concentration camps, and was the only one to survive of his family. Her mother was from Poland, and she lost her brother and parents. “I grew up with no family albums,” Jarniewski said. “No holiday celebrations with extended families. I grew up with a mom who was understandably mentally ill because of everything she experienced as a young teenager.”
“At the time there was no talk of what we call today PTSD,” she added. “She rarely left the house and she died very young. Both of my parents inspired me with their courage simply to put one foot in front of the other and lead their lives and recreate life.”
Jarniewski explained the term ‘Shoah,’ a word that many use in place of ‘Holocaust.’
“The term ‘Holocaust’ means burnt offering,” she said. “This of course has a very problematic theological meaning because it would mean that the death of 6 million Jews is somehow a sacrifice.”
The word ‘Shoah’ instead means calamity or disaster, which Jarniewski said is far more accurate.
Part of Jarniewski’s presentation included the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s agreed upon definition of antisemitism, which is a non-legally binding definition that has been adopted by several countries.
The definition is as follows: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
That definition helps clarify what is and isn’t antisemitic criticism.
“Often people misunderstand what antisemitism is,” Jarniewski said. “They think, for instance, any criticism of Israel is antisemitic, which it isn’t. This definition delineates what is legitimate criticism of Israel and what crosses the line over into antisemitism. Sometimes there are events that take place that cross that line and this definition allows us to use it as a guideline for statements that are made.”
Part of the resurgence in antisemitism has been because of the rise of the alt-right, Jarniewski said. “It’s not [U.S. president Donald] Trump himself but it’s many of Trump’s supporters that have made it seem more acceptable to make racist statements of all kinds,” she said. “I don’t think antisemitism ever ceased to exist, I think it’s always been there, but there was a certain period of time when society made it clear that it wasn’t appropriate to make these kinds of statements in public.”
“Today with the rise of certain movements people seem to think it’s okay to say all kinds of hateful things, including statements against Jews,” she added.
Jarniewski said this hatred has often been tied to religion. “It’s been tied to religion as well as racism,” she said. “It’s been tied to issues of what types of professions Jews were allowed to practice. For a long time because of Christian religion, Jews were the only ones allowed to lend money. Whenever people owed a great deal of money, including leaders like the King of France, the way out of it was to expel the Jews.”
Still, Jarniewski is hopeful that people can learn by reflecting on the long-standing roots of antisemitism.