A World of Fear for Europe’s Jews

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The Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel and a surge in acts of antisemitism have awakened a repressed horror in Jewish populations across the continent.

A tightly packed crowd, some with their heads bowed, hold Israeli flags and posters or lean against a red and white metal barrier.
Observing a minute of silence during a rally in solidarity with Israel in Berlin on Oct. 22.Credit…Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Roger Cohen

Perhaps not since the Holocaust, which saw the annihilation of about two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish community, have the Jews of Europe lived in an atmosphere of fear so acute that it feels like a fundamental shift in the terms of their existence.

Across a Europe of daubed Stars of David on apartment buildings, bomb threats to Jewish stores and demonstrations calling for Israel’s eradication, Jews speak of alarm as pro-Palestinian sentiment surges.

“There is a feeling of helplessness that has never been experienced before,” said Joel Rubinfeld of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

The Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel, often described as the largest single-day slaughter of Jews since Hitler’s program of extermination, has awakened a repressed horror in Jewish populations, now compounded by dismay at the way the world’s sympathy has rapidly shifted to the Palestinians in Gaza being killed under Israeli bombardment.

“What strikes me is there is a wave of antisemitism in the world when 1,300 Jews were massacred a few days ago,” said Samuel Lejoyeux, the president of the Union of Jewish Students of France, which includes 15,000 members.

This feels, to many European Jews, like the same blindness or insouciance that allowed millions of their forbears to be sent to Nazi camps to be gassed. It is precisely to that time that images of slain Jewish babies and grandmothers in the Jewish homeland have transported them.


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