Refugee from Nazis warns London conference on dangers of far right

This Saturday, a major conference in London with delegates from all over the world will discuss confronting the rise of the far-right and race hate around the globe.

The ¡No Pasaran! conference – named after the Spanish anti-fascist cry  of the 1930s ‘They shall not pass’ – is a major European conference  which sets out to challenge what it warns is the biggest rise in the far right since the 1930s. 

It will be opened by an address from Walter Wolfgang, 95, who fled Nazi Germany as a teen with his parents in 1937 on the cusp of the Holocaust after persecution for being Jewish.

(C) Loz Pycock CC BY-SA 2.0

“As a refugee from Nazi Germany I saw at first hand the terrible consequences of a political doctrine based on hatred and racism. Millions died as a result of Nazi policies.

“Now we see those hateful doctrines on the rise again. It’s time for those of us who lived through those horrors to raise the alarm, to stop it happening again. We must be united,” Walter will warn the conference.

Walter who was born in Frankfurt in 1923, was sent to the UK in 1937, followed by his parents two years later. A peace activist and a socialist all his life, Walter joined the Labour Party in 1948, joining the Labour NEC in 2006. Walter was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 and a patron of the Stop the War Coalition. He was famously ejected from the 2005 Labour Party Conference for heckling then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw when Straw insisted: “we are in Iraq for one reason only: to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation.”

Never one to mince his words, Walter told The London Economic why he will be telling the The ¡No Pasaran! Conference on Saturday that it is now urgent to confront the rise of the far right again.

“The conference is important than ever because racism is on the rise. The president of the United States has just been accused of being a racist by his own lawyer if you read the papers today.

“It is very serious if someone who has racist sympathies is president of a country as powerful as the United States,” warned Walter Wolfgang, referring to revelations in testimony from Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen to a congress committee yesterday.

“Racism in any form is highly dangerous and is something people resort to when they do not go into the actual causes of their discontent and people right now are rightly fed up with the effects of neoliberalism on their lives and sometimes that takes a wrong turn,” added Walter.

“Unfortunately, racism isn’t confined to one country or one corner of the world it is found everywhere.

“There have been various reactions against this and it is in this spirit that the conference has been called.  The purpose is to learn about experiences of racism and the fight against racism in other countries.

“The Polish government at the moment is antisemitic. One of the coalition partners in the Austrian government is and it is a very dangerous situation.”

Walter insists that Britain is still in general the tolerant nation he found it to be arriving as a refugee, aged 14, but he warned against complacency.

“I was treated as a very well when I arrived as a teenager in the UK,” said Walter.

“Britain has a reputation for tolerance -it’s a great treasure but it is one that must be guarded very carefully.

“We should condemn all forms of racism including antisemitism, islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia and emphasise the brotherhood of every human being and the pursuit of peace.

“There has always been racism in the UK and it comes from the extreme right and those who are Nazi sympathisers.

“Often it has its grounds in dissatisfaction which has taken a wrong turn. People are not looking at the causes of their discontent but looking elsewhere.”

Referring to current accusations of failing to deal with antisemitism in the Labour party that Walter has been a life long member of, he cautioned: “sometimes accusations of racism are used by people against people they don’t like and that weakens the fight against genuine racism.”

Walter insisted that “the Labour party have a good record on tackling racism,” and that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn “is one of the most consistent anti-racists in politics internationally and certainly in Britain.” 

(c)Public Reading Rooms

Walter cautioned: “we must be very careful that people who criticise people who happen to be Jewish are not necessarily anti Jewish people, and that those who dislike what the Israeli state is doing – as I myself often do – are not necessarily antisemitic either.

“Racism is racial prejudice, antagonism and persecution based on ethnicity, faith, race, orientation. It is nothing else.”

Walter added: “Israel is rightly criticised for persecuting Palestinians, I am disgusted with what the Israeli government is doing.

“The mainstream political Zionism of [Israeli PM] Nethanyahu is inconsistent with the Jewish aims of human brotherhood. This is not true of all branches of Zionism and there is certainly resistance in Israel itself, in the United States with the likes of [pro-peace Jewish American group] J Street – who have had a very hard time lately, and in other countries.

“The French have now passed a stupid law which says that attacks against Zionism are antisemitic which is ridiculous.

“And we have to be careful here in the UK too over what has happened to the Labour party.”

The 95-year-old peace activist said that he would be telling Saturday’s conference that: “human brotherhood and respect for our neighbours is essential, and it is essential that we extend it to everybody.

“Tolerance means there must be no excuses for intolerance, ever.”

Walter Wolfgang will open the ¡No Pasaran! Conference on Saturday March 2, where he will be joined by film director Ken Loach, writer Tariq Ali, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP, Esther Lynch, leader of the European TUC, Rapper Lowkey and many voices from across Europe. A full list of speakers and events and ticket details can be found here.

Delegations, such as student activists from the huge demonstrations against Orban’s ‘slave law’ in Budapest are coming from many countries, including Hungary, Poland, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

The conference is organised by the journal Transform and supported by numerous organisations including the Trades Union Congress, Europe Trade Union Confederation, Global Justice Now and the Institute of Race Relations.

Organiser Kate Hudson said: “as the far-right is increasingly internationalised and the politics of hate is being boosted on a global scale, it is vital that progressive forces coordinate internationally and get organised together to fight back. This conference aims to be part of that process.”

@BenGelblum 

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