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In Denmark, Auschwitz survivors lament the rise of anti-Semitism

January marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but there is growing concern throughout Europe that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Historically tolerant Denmark, for example, has seen a resurgence of neo-Nazi groups opposed to immigration. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Denmark, where he met a Jewish Auschwitz survivor worried about her family amid the hate.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Seventy-five years after Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world.

    Over the last decade, hate speech, harassment and violent attacks targeting Jews increased significantly throughout Europe. Even Denmark, a country that historically resisted anti-Semitic sentiment, has seen a resurgence of neo-Nazi movements.

    As part of our coverage of this 75th anniversary, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant went to Denmark to meet a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. And a warning: This report includes some disturbing images.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At home in Copenhagen, Iboya Wandall-Holm's sharp mind and memories belie her 98 years.

    Along with her sister, Iboya was a member of the resistance in what was Czechoslovakia. They were deported to Auschwitz in 1944 after being betrayed in Hungary, where they were hiding from the Nazis.

  • Iboya Wandall-Holm (through translator):

    I survived thanks to luck and intuition. There was something in me telling me when to take a step forward and when to take a step backwards. You had to do whatever it took to survive.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The survival instinct kicked in when Iboya entered Auschwitz, beneath its slogan of false hope: Work sets you free.

    Among the welcoming party was Dr. Josef Mengele in the center, nicknamed the Angel of Death for his live experiments on prisoners.

    As the Jews dismounted from cattle wagons, the S.S.told them they could walk from the railhead to the camp or go on trucks. Iboya chose to walk. Those who didn't went straight to the gas chambers.

  • Iboya Wandall-Holm (through translator):

    I thought that those enormous chimneys that were pumping smoke up into the sky, I thought they were bakeries.

    But then one of the old prisoners said to us: "Do you know what is happening? Do you know what that smoke is? It is all those who got up on the trucks and were driven into the camp. They are now all gone."

    Something happened with me when I was told the truth. It was as if I had it was — as if my body — I am sorry, suddenly, I can't.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Iboya is on the left, next to her sister, Lilly. Both survived Auschwitz, perhaps because they could withstand the Nazi slave labor.

    As the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, Iboya and her sister were still in peril. They and thousands of other prisoners were ordered to march as the Nazis tried to cover up their crimes against humanity.

    The sisters survived the death march and eventually escaped. Iboya attributes their deliverance to boots she exchanged with a guard for a ring she found while digging up cabbages.

  • Iboya Wandall-Holm (through translator):

    I had typhoid just before this march started, but because I had those boots that warmed my feet, I could walk and walk and walk.

    But those of us who could not walk were shot. The corpses were lined up along the roads, yes, everywhere. Some of them were still alive. They held up their hands to us. We couldn't help them. We just had to walk on.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Seventy-five years on, anti-Semitism is virulent. A recent major study by the Anti-Defamation League concluded that one in four Europeans held negative views about Jewish people.

    Attitudes appear to be holding relatively steady in Western Europe. But there's been a rise in bigotry in Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Russia and Ukraine.

    However, the biggest surge within the European Union is in Poland, where Auschwitz is located.

    Denmark is proud that, during the Nazi occupation, 90 percent of its 8,000-strong Jewish population were smuggled to safety in neutral Sweden. But anti-Semitism appears to be intensifying even in this traditionally tolerant nation.

    Last November, a Jewish cemetery in Western Denmark was vandalized on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when Nazis smashed over 250 synagogues, wrecked 7,000 Jewish businesses, and 30,000 Jewish men were transported to concentration camps.

    This Jewish couple also had a Star of David attached to their postbox.

  • Henri Goldstein:

    The main thing is we now saw the Nazi groups of Denmark acting with — until that, we didn't really think about it. It was something new.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Henri Goldstein admits the Jewish community that he leads was caught by surprise, because it regarded radical Islamists as the main threat.

  • Henri Goldstein:

    So, it's alarming that there's a new front coming from the right, which we didn't expect to be living, really.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A member of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement has been charged in connection with the vandalism.

    Besides being anti-Semitic, the movement also agitates mass immigration. Its increasing support across Scandinavia troubles Danish historian Therkel Straede, who pauses at a commemorative stone honoring a Jewish man who lived in this street and was murdered in Germany during the Holocaust.

    There is a growing belief that, amid rising hatred, the atmosphere in Europe is reminiscent of the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler came to power.

  • Therkel Straede:

    I don't think we are anywhere near close to the situation of the 1930s.

    Hitler came to power and made anti-Semitism government politics in one of the most important states in the world. That is not going to happen anywhere, so far as I can see.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the threat of anti-Jewish terrorism is ever-present, hence the military guard outside Copenhagen's main synagogue.

    Such measures have been essential since 2015, when an Islamist gunman shot and killed a guard protecting guests at a bat mitzvah for a girl called Hannah Bentow. This is the recent bar mitzvah of Hannah's brother Elias.

    Their mother, Mette, says that returning to the scene of terrorism five years on has triggered her son's post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Mette Bentow:

    I have never seen him so heartbroken and I have never felt so heartbroken in my life. It's very disheartening not to be able to help your child.

    When we look at our specific family history, of course, I can't help but feeling so very responsible and feel very guilty for having chosen to lead a Jewish life in Denmark, because had I chosen to live anywhere else, this wouldn't have happened.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Commemorative stones may sustain memories of Holocaust victims, but, to preserve its future, the Jewish community wants the Danish government to mount a substantial education campaign to combat anti-Semitism.

  • Henri Goldstein:

    The only real weapon we can use is information. I would say propaganda, but good campaigns for being Jewish is not different to being Christian or Muslim or anything else.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Certainly, in Scandinavia, the Jewish community needs to counter the influence of the Nordic Resistance Movement. With its slick videos, it's becoming more organized, and has even got a foothold in Iceland, an issue addressed by Denmark's Queen Margrethe in her New Year's Eve address.

  • Queen Margrethe:

    It's shameful to experience how the ugly face of anti-Semitism is once again rearing its head, and in our country too. Anti-Semitism, intolerance and repression of those who think differently has no place anywhere. We have to try to be very vigilant and help each other to resist it.

  • Iboya Wandall-Holm (through translator):

    I am troubled, but I am not troubled for myself, because I am nearly 100 years old, but for my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchild and for all the young people of today. I would wish a better world for them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The last witnesses to the worst depravity of the 20th century are leaving us, bequeathing their memories, in the hope that no future generations see what they have seen.

    For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen.

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