Europeans trying to combat scourge of anti-Semitism

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vienna, austria | Every few months in Austria, vandals topple tombstones in a Jewish cemetery and spray swastikas on the headstones.

But it’s not just happening here, officials warned Nov. 10, as Europe’s top human rights body joined forces with a global Holocaust education task force to fight what they denounced as a “scourge of anti-Semitism” across the continent.

“Anti-Semitism is still not an issue of the past … the Holocaust is something that can happen again and again and again,” warned Ferdinand Trauttmansdorf, chairman of the Task Force for International Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

The international task force, led this year by Austria, teamed up with the Council of Europe in a bid to more closely coordinate education and public awareness efforts to combat acts of hatred against Jews.

Among the measures in the works is a joint media campaign dubbed “All Different — All Equal,” to promote and celebrate diversity.

Officials announced the joint effort to mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, on Nov. 9.

“Seventy years after these pogroms, in 2008, we still face anti-Semitic hate crimes,” said Janez Lenarcic, head of the human rights arm of the Organization for Security and Coordination in Europe.

“Clearly, important historic lessons have still not been learned by all,” he added.

Cases in point: the recurring attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues across the 27-nation European Union.

Several windows of a synagogue in eastern Hungary were smashed with rocks this month, the Rabbinical Center of Europe said Nov. 10. And last month, up to 200 Jewish graves were vandalized in Bucharest, Romania.

Such desecrations have become almost routine in Austria. So far this year, there have been reports of Jewish graves defaced or destroyed in the western city of Linz, in the southern city of Graz and in Vienna, where at least two dozen graves were vandalized in January.

Even today, 6 percent of Austrians surveyed by the polling firm GfK Austria said they believe there’s no historical proof that the Holocaust actually occurred. That’s down from 15 percent in 1979, but it’s still cause for concern, officials said. GfK Austria did not release details on the survey’s methodology or margin of error.

“We do not have to repeat these atrocities — we can learn from history,” said Morten Kjaerum, who heads the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Tracking anti-Semitic incidents has proven difficult, the agency says, because of patchy reporting in different countries.

Overall, incidents appear to have peaked in 2004, though they are still occurring in every EU member state, according to the agency’s most recent survey published in December 2006.

Some Jewish groups, however, contend that anti-Semitism is even more deeply ingrained: The European Jewish Congress says incidents flared again in 2006.

Officials say that underscores the importance of education — and not just by governments and schools, but at homes around the dinner table.

Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, told reporters he’s taken his own children to cemeteries to explain the atrocities that Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis and still endure today.

“We need to change people’s attitudes,” he said.