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One Day of Remembrance Isn’t Enough

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day has already passed on Fri., Jan. 27, 2023. This date marks the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration camp. Auschwitz was only one of many Concentration Camps used in the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people. It is hard to comprehend or put into words the sheer scale of the

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day has already passed on Fri., Jan. 27, 2023. This date marks the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration camp. Auschwitz was only one of many Concentration Camps used in the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people. It is hard to comprehend or put into words the sheer scale of the atrocities committed. Even today, we see the same rhetoric and lies that gave rise to that evil being perpetuated.

What we commonly call the Holocaust all began with a lie. It began with the lie that Jewish people were responsible for Germany’s loss in WWI and subsequent economic hardships. It was this lie that fueled the spread of antisemitism across Germany. The first country the Nazis invaded was their own. After a failed coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch, the Nazi party would win the election in 1932 with 37% of the vote, with Hitler appointed as Chancellor. Nazi Germany would Annex Austria in 1938 and would invade Poland in 1939, marking the beginning of WWII. The persecution of Jews was systematic, gradually stripping them of their rights.

The United States Holocaust Museum defines the Holocaust as “the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945 across Europe and North Africa. By the end of the war, the Germans and their collaborators had killed nearly two out of every three European Jews. Among their other victims were Roma, people with disabilities, Slavic peoples (Poles and Russians), as well as Black People.”

Even at the height of WWII, the influence of Nazi propaganda made its way to our shores and through our very government. U.S. Senator Ernest Lundeen had close ties to Nazi Spy George Sylvester Viereck, who worked to spread pro-Hitler and Anti-Semitic propaganda. This sort of propaganda was also perpetuated here at home by select “religious” leaders.

Canadian American Priest Charles Coughlin promoted antisemitic and pro-fascist views throughout the 1930s via radio broadcasts. Coughlin went so far as to say that the Kristallnacht pogrom or Night of Broken Glass was ‘justified’ retaliation for what he claimed was the persecution of Christians by Jews.

This sort of propaganda and rhetoric emboldened fringe groups like the Christian Front. An FBI report to director J. Edgar Hoover warned that the Christian front was armed with machine guns and was conducting military drills. Other fringe groups would appear around this time, such as the Silver Legion or Silver Shirts, styled after the Nazi’s Brown Shirts.

Today we see the same kind of dangerous rhetoric, lies, and conspiracy theories. Across Europe, yellow stars were used as a form of protest against COVID mandates and vaccination. This comparison trivializes the millions of Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. We’ve seen farcical claims like wildfires being caused by Jewish space lasers from a sitting congresswoman, no less. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however.

In Charlottesville, West Virginia, an angry mob marched carrying tiki torches, swastikas, and semi-automatic rifles, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” We have reached a point where the quiet part is now being said out loud. These were not very fine people, and there was no ‘both sides.’

According to an Anti-Defamation League audit, Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021. Attacks against synagogues and Jewish Community Centers increased by 61 percent. Incidents reached a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism. The highest number since the ADL began tracking incidents in 1979. On average, seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year. A man threw a molotov cocktail at an N.J. synagogue as recently as Jan. 30, 2023.

Just as troubling is the increase in holocaust denialism; despite evidence to the contrary, some believe the Holocaust to be a myth or hoax. Some even go so far as to claim survivors exaggerated their experiences. According to the Guardian, in a survey done two years ago, 23% of U.S. adults aged 18-39, said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, had been exaggerated, or weren’t sure. Almost 2/3 of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than 1 in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust. In a study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged 18-39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration Camp or Ghetto established during the second world war. More than half (56%) said they had seen Nazi symbols on their social media or in their communities.

Denialism is bad enough, but these racist and antisemitic ideas are actively being taught to some children. In the state of Ohio, a US Neo-Nazi Homeschool network serves as a breeding ground for such ideas and contains 2,400 members. Their lesson plans include demonizing Martin Luther King Jr., complete with racial slurs. One of the leaders of this network in a podcast stated that they are invested in “making sure that that child becomes a wonderful Nazi.”

Growing up, I was exposed to “The Diary of Anne Frank.” A young girl who hid with her family in an attic from the Nazis and would later be arrested with her family. She and her sister would later be transported to Auschwitz and later Bergen-Belsen, where they would both die due to Typhus. On a school field trip to Washington, D.C., my class and I visited the National Holocaust Museum. Maybe I wasn’t old enough to fully comprehend it at the time, but then how can anyone? I remember the oppressive silence as you walked through the museum. The stacks of shoes and glasses tell the story their former owners could not. It was an experience I will never forget.

We must not forget, and we must push back against antisemitism, regardless of the mask it wears. Whether it’s a former president having dinner with a white nationalist and Holocaust denier or a musician. The best way to remember the victims of the Holocaust and those who survived it is to deny those who would deny it happened.