Commentary

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2022: We need to remember now more than ever

Detail of the prisoners numbers at the Holocaust Memorial, Boston, Massachusetts (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a date designated by the United Nations to commemorate Jews and other victims  of the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis and collaborators. The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It is a day for the world to pause and educate itself about the Holocaust.

In some ways, it is unimaginable that we need to dedicate a specific date to Holocaust remembrance.

How could anybody forget the horrors of the Holocaust – a systematic campaign to murder Europe’s Jews, resulting in the murder of six million Jews and millions of others, including LGBTQ+ people, individuals with disabilities, priests, Poles, resistance fighters, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many more?

Unfortunately, many are engaged in a campaign to forget, distort, and deny the Holocaust. This isn’t just a fringe project in hidden spaces online.

Holocaust deniers shout their lies in mainstream spaces. For example, Iran’s leadership specifically refuses to acknowledge Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews and actively seeks to sow doubt about it.  And while European governments uniformly recognize the reality of the Holocaust, several governments in Eastern Europe engage in outrageous examples of Holocaust distortion.

Today, too many others are simply ignorant of the historical truth. ADL’s first Global 100 Survey of antisemitic attitudes in 2014 found that only 54 percent of those polled had heard of the Holocaust. Of those, 32 percent believed that the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust was greatly exaggerated or simply a myth. This, along with other data points, further confirmed the need for increased Holocaust education in the U.S. and around the world.

Time and again in recent years, we have had to criticize those who use analogies to the Holocaust or Nazi Germany in wholly inapt comparisons.  This includes politicians on both sides of the aisle and individuals engaged in all kinds of political debates, most recently focused on COVID restrictions, masking requirements and vaccination efforts.  We have made clear that this rhetoric is offensive and wrong and must not be tolerated, regardless of its source or the intentions of those who use it.

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The good news is that Holocaust education works. A September 2020 survey by Echoes & Reflections, a partnership education program of ADL, the USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, found that eight out of ten U.S. college students report having received at least some Holocaust education during high school, with more than 55 percent having watched either in-person or video survivor testimony.

Students who received Holocaust education were shown to hold more pluralistic attitudes and to be more open to differing viewpoints, including being more comfortable with people of a different race or sexual orientation, having an increased willingness to challenge incorrect or biased information, to confront intolerant behavior in others, and to stand up to negative stereotyping.

Seventy-seven years after the end of the War, we have lost so many elderly survivors of the Holocaust. Those we have lost are no longer able to visit schools and faith congregations to share their stories and bear personal witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. It is our responsibility to continue to tell their stories and share their lessons.

Here are three things you can do in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

  1. Read or listen to a Holocaust survivor’s testimony, such as at the following link: https://sfi.usc.edu/what-we-do/collections
  2. Tell your U.S. Senators to confirm Professor Deborah Lipstadt to serve as the State Department’s next U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, a crucial role for combating antisemitism around the world.
  3. Tell Congress to fully fund the federal and state nonprofit security grant programs, which provide funding to synagogues, churches, mosques, religious institutions and other nonprofits to make security upgrades to protect their members.

From Kristallnacht to the forced round-ups of Jewish ghettos, and ultimately, the deportation of Jews to Nazi forced-labor camps,  concentration camps and death camps across Europe, we remember.

And we remember the words of Elie Wiesel, who stated: “I have learned that the Holocaust was a unique and uniquely Jewish event, albeit with universal implications. Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

The Jews were victims and witnesses to the most deadly hate. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should all raise our voices to affirm that hate is hate, and that it is our responsibility to interrupt and disrupt antisemitism and other forms of hate whenever and wherever we witness it.

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