by Jacob Gurvis
(JTA) — The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany hosted its seventh annual International Holocaust Survivors Night event Monday with a slate of Jewish celebrities, communal leaders and heads of state — many of whom drew connections between Holocaust memory, the ongoing war in Israel and subsequent rise of antisemitism around the world.
The event, tied to the fifth night of Hanukkah, was streamed online and co-hosted by TV news anchors Katy Tur and Tony Dokoupil. It featured appearances from several Jewish Hollywood stars, including Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jason Alexander and Mayim Bialik. Broadway legend Barry Manilow and the cast of his play “Harmony” performed, as did the Jewish a capella group Six13.
Crystal was one of many speakers who invoked the themes of light and darkness, echoing the many events Jewish communities across the United States are holding during a Hanukkah holiday that coincides with the war in Israel.
“This year has more significance than others, perhaps, because the seeds of antisemitism are growing around us once again,” Crystal said in his remarks. “But as we light these candles, you are a symbol of hope and perseverance and courage and that is what we all need again during these difficult days.”
The lineup also included Israeli President Isaac Herzog, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and current and former cabinet officials from Germany, Austria and Israel. A number of Holocaust envoys, survivors and educators also spoke, as did leaders from many Jewish organizations in the U.S. and around the world. The event concluded with a candle lighting at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“Our hearts connect around the world tonight in these darkest moments of winter, in an hour of deep grief and longing we come together with our precious survivors, to recall that our light still shines,” Herzog said. “It is indeed a dark moment. We have all been jolted into a terrible new reality, where the worst moments for our people have come into our present once again.”
Since he became the German chancellor, Scholz has been a vocal supporter of Israel and sought to combat antisemitism, especially in his country, where one watchdog found that antisemitism had surged over 300% since Oct. 7.
“I try to imagine how much the images from Israel, how much antisemitic hatred on the internet and on the streets around the world must be hitting you of all people right in the heart,” Scholtz said in German. “This idea pains me a lot. You have experienced immeasurable horror and suffering. You have fought for your lives with unimaginable strength. We will ensure that the crime against humanity of the Shoah committed by Germans will never be forgotten.”
On Sunday, thousands rallied against antisemitism in Berlin. And after a German synagogue was hit with two Molotov cocktails in October, Scholtz responded by saying that “antisemitism has no place in Germany.”
Leon Weintraub, who survived Auschwitz, spoke at Monday’s event and shared his experience being in Israel on Oct. 7.
“On Oct. 7, I woke up from the sirens in the center of Tel Aviv. All at once, I was again in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland,” he said. “A terrible feeling, a shiver, a feeling of dread to be again in a war. We celebrate Hanukkah now, the festival of lights. I hope that the light will also bring the people enlightenment. That people will rethink and look at us people of Jewish descent as normal, equal human beings, and not as some kind of ‘other.’”
The Claims Conference, which negotiates and distributes reparations for Holocaust survivors and their families, earlier this year had secured a record $1.4 billion aid package for the estimated 240,000 remaining Holocaust survivors around the world.