Dr Moshe Kantor drew parallels between the political situation now and in the 1930s. ‘Not standing up to this prejudice leads us down a dark path.’
The recent rise in hate crime has “parallels with the darkest days of the 1930s”, the head of a body representing Europe’s Jews has warned.
Dr Moshe Kantor, head of the European Jewish Congress, said that the rise of Far Right and neo-Nazi parties is exceptionally worrying.
As commemorations take place around the world for Holocaust Memorial Day, he said that there were dangers “lurking in our own back yard” and called for improvements in security, education and legislation to deal with them.
Kantor told The Huffington Post UK: “A common question that’s asked about the Holocaust is how ordinary people were driven to commit atrocities.
“We know that they were not threatened with death for not following orders, so why did they did it? Why did they turn in their neighbours to the Nazis, and end up working – as train drivers, guards, secretaries – within Hitler’s killing machine?
“Only a small minority supported Hitler’s plan to kill all European Jews through mass extermination, a plan that was widely circulated years before.
“But he was able to act because an undercurrent of hatred had seeped into everyday life.”
That undercurrent of hatred is still there today – and could have worrying consequences, he said.
He added: “Some of these dangers are now lurking in our own backyard, as we face, once again, an era of nationalism, xenophobia and strident anti-Semitism.
“Unfortunately, it cannot be ruled out that by the end of the year far right and neo-Nazi parties will gains significant power in some European countries.
“Not standing up to this prejudice leads us down a dark path, where the rights of minorities are stripped away, and abuse becomes a way of life.”
The effect of the vote to leave the European Union has also prompted a rise in hate crime, Kantor said.
He said: “Certainly the Brexit vote has fuelled a rise in hate crime and online hate speech and there is a rise of so-called ‘populists’ in Europe too – many of them nothing more than newly packaged versions of the old Far Right, representing all the old hatreds and intolerance.
“We should work hard to make sure everyone seems what they are, not what they are pretending to be.”
Kantor called for a focus on education to prevent the next generation being manipulated by extremists.
He said: “We know that extremists are targeting young and vulnerable teenagers in Europe, and have a 20-year strategy.
“This is why it’s crucial that we develop special programmes, from kindergarten and reception all the way through to university to educate people on the dangers of religious hatred, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”
Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, which also remembers those who were killed in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, is an important reminder of “where exclusion and racism can lead”.
Kantor said: “Across Europe, there is a growing political representation of movements with intolerant agendas taking their place in parliaments across Europe.
“At the same time, Holocaust memory continues to be under direct assault from people who seek to deny and manipulate the past the serve their own agenda.
“Today, we have to say with regret that the awful lessons of the past, including the Holocaust, are being forgotten.
“Many people believed that the sheer number of six million victims would ensure that it would never happen again. Yet since then, many more massacres and crimes against humanity have taken place around the world. The number of people who are still alive to give first-hand accounts of the genocide are becoming fewer, and soon there will be no survivors left.
“This is why it is more important than ever that we are constantly reminded of the events that led to the Holocaust so that we can show people where exclusion and racism can lead, and encourage them to act. “
Kantor’s comments come as new research has revealed that 27% of survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides living in the UK report they have suffered discrimination here.