On Sunday, January 27, much of the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. IHRD is marked (“celebrated” does not seem an appropriate designation) annually on this date to correspond to the date in 1945 on which Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps. It is estimated that 1 million Jews plus a goodly number of Poles, gypsies and others were murdered there.
On Sunday, there was a ceremony at the site of the former camp. Some surviving prisoners, wearing striped scarves in memory of the prisoners’ uniforms, placed flowers at an execution wall. Others gave testimonies, and Poland’s chief rabbi read out the names of all the concentration camps in memoriam. Unfortunately, the ceremony was marred by Polish far right demonstrators who protested that there was too much emphasis on the Jewish victims at the expense of the Polish victims.
IHRD is a time of reflection. For many people, it serves as an annual reminder that anti-Semitism is still with us 74 years later. Moreover, it has been escalating, which is a disturbing and foreboding sign. Indeed, it has always been present throughout recorded history, sometimes overtly, as with the infamous pogroms in Poland, Russia and other locales throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, and, at other times, more covertly. Rulers always found Jews to be a convenient “whipping boy” for the ills of their domain. Failed crops, a plague, not enough jobs, blame the Jews. Throughout history, that particular tactic has always served as a means to divert the attention of the masses from the real problems, which was invariably ineffective or corrupt leadership.
Most disturbingly, a growing number of people, particularly young people, have little or no knowledge of the Holocaust, or, in some cases, deny that it even occurred. I believe this increases the chances that a similar event will recur at some point in the future. I have blogged on this topic before, and space limitations do not permit me to present a detailed reiteration of it at this time.
But, in view of recent developments, I believe a brief summary would be appropriate. Various political leaders have been speaking out about this very disturbing trend. For instance:
1. In a radio address on Saturday, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said “people growing up today must know what people were capable of in the past, and we must work proactively to ensure that it is never repeated.”
2. In a recent op-ed in the German publication, “Welt am Sonntag,” Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, cited a wave of “nationalism” is sweeping across Europe. He added that “far right provocateurs” are “downplaying the Holocaust.” Also, he stated that Germany “must continue to teach its young people about the Holocaust.”
3. While laying a wreath at an execution wall Armin Laschet, the premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, opined that “Auschwitz shows what can happen when people’s worst qualities come to bear. The inconceivable crimes of the past must be a warning and an obligation for every new generation.” Over the past year, Germany has been plagued by a rising tide of violent attacks against Jews by neo-Nazi and Muslim groups. This has prompted the government to take the somewhat aggressive step of appointing a commissioner to combat anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, this trend is not limited to Germany. There have been attacks, both verbal and physical, against Jews in Sweden, France, Poland, and even the US, among others.
4. President Donald Trump criticized the Holocaust deniers,” stating “any denial or indifference to the horror of this chapter in the history of humankind diminishes all men and women everywhere and invites repetition of this great evil.”
5. Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, warned that “the threats of violence, xenophobia and anti-Semitism still exist today.”
These political leaders and others, are saying the right words, but it appears that their opinions are not permeating to the general public. To illustrate my points regarding the rise of anti-Semitism and misconceptions or unawareness of the Holocaust, please take note of the results of the following surveys and statistics:
1. According to a recent study by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Azrieli Foundation 52% of millennials in Canada could not name even one concentration camp or ghetto, and 62% of them were unaware that 6 million Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust.
2. Lest you dismiss that as an aberration, a similar survey in the US yielded similar results. Some 40% of respondents (66% of millennials) were not even cognizant of what Auschwitz was.
3. A recent survey by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust disclosed that 5% of Britons did not believe that the Holocaust actually occurred. Furthermore, almost 2/3 of the respondents either were unaware of how many Jews had been murdered or substantially underestimated the number.
4. Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs reported that 13 Jews were murdered last year, which was the most since the 1990s.
5. In the US, anti-Semitic incidents rose a record 57% from 2016 to 2017, and eleven worshippers were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Additionally, prominent politicians, such as Dem presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, and newly elected representatives Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have expressed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments in the recent past and/or have ties to the notorious Louis Farrakhan, Leader of the hate group, Nation of Islam. To me, anti-Israel statements are code for ant-Semitism much like “states’ rights” was code for segregation in the 1950s.
With the passage of time and the inevitable deaths of the few remaining survivors, memory of the horror of the Holocaust has been fading and will inevitably continue to do so, not necessarily among Jews, but among most of the rest of the world. I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but this, combined with the abovementioned sharp upward trend in anti-Semitic incidents and the indifference toward and/or ignorance of the Holocaust, itself, increases the likelihood that it will be repeated in the future. Beware and be vigilant.