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Int’l faith leaders hold Holocaust symposium

The European Coalition for Israel (ECI) organized the gathering, which comes just ahead of tomorrow’s commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
By Erin Viner

The forum was held in Berlin to mark the 80th anniversary of the 20 January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when senior Nazi and German government officials planned the mass extermination of 11 million Jews living in Europe.

By the end of World War II, 6 million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust.

The ECI defines itself as a European-based coalition of Christian organizations, grass root movements and churches from different denominations and cultures across the Christian spectrum that understands the important role of Europe in regard to the Jewish people and the existence of the State of Israel not only in the past but also for today.

The one-day symposium, entitled “The Contemporary Church and Antisemitism – what must we do?” explored efforts by the Christian world to relate to Jewish faith “with respect and dignity,” according to an ECI statement obtained by TV7.

15 leaders attended the event in person, while others joined virtually. Attendees included the Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, and the Chair of the Pentecostal Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Arto Hämäläinen, representing hundreds of millions of Christian believers worldwide.

“Neither good education nor religious faith makes anyone immune against antisemitism. Among the fifteen delegates at the Wannsee conference, eight held academic doctoral degrees, and many were members of the Protestant or the Catholic Church,” noted ECI conference organizer Tomas Sandell.

Concrete examples from current textbooks from German schools that “still misrepresent Jewish life and culture to the point of recycling old Jewish stereotypes” were presented at the symposium by Professor Katharina von Kellenbach of the Evangelical Academy in Berlin.

“Adopting the IHRA working definition on antisemitism is but one small step in addressing the issue of antisemitism within the church – but it is a necessary first step as we begin to explore the distinct features of Christian antisemitism,” said Prof. von Kellenbach.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby condemned the “profound evil of antisemitism” in a recorded message.

“For centuries antisemitism has been like a volcano in European culture, he said. From time to time erupting with absolute destruction – but always emitting noxious and terrible gases which has poisoned the atmosphere both in Europe and around the world. We must constantly be vigilant against the first signs of an eruption coming. We can never ever tolerate any antisemitism. There is no acceptable level of antisemitism,” he underscored.

Jewish people still today face an existential threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is on the brink of acquiring nuclear capabilities, Congress of Christian Leaders in the United States President, Reverend Johnnie Moore, said in an online presentation.

While ongoing Jewish-Christian dialogue has been active over the last 50 years or so, said the ECI, the delegates agreed that the symposium “had the potential of breaking new ground.” New allies and a broad cooperation are needed in the battle against antisemitism, said co-organizer Dr. Christian Staffa, the National Commissioner against Antisemitism at the Evangelical-Protestant Church (EKD) in Germany and the Director of Studies for Democratic Culture and Church at the Evangelical Academy in Berlin.

Vice President of the German Parliament Katrin Göring-Eckardt concurred, saying, “We need strong alliances that extend beyond individual concerns. It is the duty of Christians to make the concerns of their Jewish compatriots their common concern. To be united and be allies – just as today’s event shows.”

Additional participants at the one day symposium include Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, Bishop of the Evangelical-Protestant Church of Berlin Dr Christian Stäblein, Founding Director of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy Dr. Gregory Lafitte, European Union Coordinator in the combat against antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein and Federal Commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against antisemitism Dr Felix Klein.

The ECI told TV7 in a written message that in response to a plea from the Jewish Community, the symposium attendees issued a declaration which stated that “the criminalization of circumcision and kosher slaughter must be resisted, as they are central to Jewish religious practice and are protected by the right to freedom of religion and belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Gady Gronich, CEO of the Conference of European Rabbis Foundation, reminded the delegates not only to concentrate their thoughts and contributions on the tragedies of the past but to also carefully take into consideration challenges facing European Jewry today.

“80 years after the Wannsee conference, more and more Jews are asking themselves if there is still a future in Europe. The challenges facing the Jewish communities today are not only old forms of antisemitism, but new legislation which is restricting Jewish practice of religious freedom. Without circumcision and kosher slaughter there can be no religious Jewish life in Europe,” he said.

The declaration went on to note that “The Holocaust did not start with the Wannsee conference but with a long series of laws and edicts which were passed to isolate, discredit and delegitimize Jewish culture and religion, and this declaration calls on national authorities and church communities to create conditions where Jewish life can flourish.”

A memorial service in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee conference will be broadcast on 27 January at 4 PM Berlin time (CET), followed by a live conversation with several symposium delegates. Members of the public who who would like to watch the broadcast, join the conversation post comments or ask questions online are asked to register here: