On Jan. 27, 1945 Soviet troops entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-German occupied Poland, where the Nazis murdered approximately 1.3 million people – including 1.1 million Jews. The date, which falls on Sunday this year, is marked around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On April 29, 1945, the day before committing suicide in his bunker in war-ravaged Berlin, Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler – who blamed the Jewish people for starting World War II and for every problem in the world – wrote in his final political testament: “Centuries will pass away, but out of the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred against those finally responsible whom we have to thank for everything, international Jewry and its helpers, will grow.”
Hitler knew he had lost World War II. And he knew that despite murdering 6 million Jews throughout Europe, his goal of killing every single Jew on Earth had failed.
Allied armies took control of the Nazi death factories from Auschwitz to Dachau, amassing the grisly evidence of what the world would come to call the Nazi Holocaust.
But Hitler was wrong in his prediction that it would take centuries for anti-Semitism to return. The world’s oldest hatred never really disappeared, but in recent years it has grown in intensity around the world.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day we must ask: How can Hitler, who devoted his life to fanning the flames of anti-Semitism and murdering Jews, have so underestimated the resurgent hatred for the Jewish people? And why has this ancient and poisonous hatred survived and grown in our own lifetimes?
There’s an old saying that time is the enemy of memory and ignorance is the enemy of knowledge. That’s certainly true in the case of the Holocaust, which ended with Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II in 1945 – before most of us alive today were born.
As Douglas Schoen and Arielle Confino wrote last spring in a Fox News op-ed, a poll conducted by their firm Schoen Consulting found that 11 percent of all U.S. adults and 22 percent of millennials haven’t even heard of the Holocaust.
“Never forget the 6 million” has been a mantra in the Jewish world for decades. But Americans are forgetting. Despite the films, books, monuments and museums telling the story of the Holocaust, the Schoen survey found that 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust.
Nearly half the adults and millennials could not name a single Nazi concentration camp. About 80 percent of Americans have never visited a Holocaust museum, while 66 percent have never known a Holocaust survivor.
People who lack basic knowledge about the Holocaust are susceptible to cynical campaigns by neo-Nazis and xenophobic nationalists and regimes like Iran, which often use social media to mock the victims of the Nazis and deny the Holocaust ever happened.
In Europe, where Hitler managed to slaughter two-thirds of the pre-World War II Jewish population, a 2011 survey found that some 150 million people believe the lie that Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians in the same way the Nazis tried to exterminate all the Jews.
At the United Nations, Arab and Muslim nations long ago hijacked the international organization to demonize the Jewish state. Much of mainstream media in Europe has promoted the same lie.
European diplomats should have led the counterattack. But beyond speeches on days set aside to remember the Holocaust, few have acted when it has mattered most.
The world’s oldest hatred never really disappeared, but in recent years it has grown in intensity around the world.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, for example, declared he went into politics “because of Auschwitz.” Yet he refuses to condemn the Iranian regime for its Holocaust denial and genocidal threats against Israel.
In addition, Maas is leading the European effort to thwart U.S. sanctions on Iran that followed President Trump’s withdrawal from the deal that would have allowed Tehran to eventually become a nuclear power.
In America, hate crimes against Jews have soared. New York City Police Department statistics confirm that the total number of hate crimes against Jews was more than double all other minority groups combined.
And the massacre of 11 Jews during Sabbath prayers in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October was the worst anti-Semitic crime in U.S. history. The man arrested and charged with the murders has been identified as a white supremacist and Nazi.
While many Americans showed great sympathy and support for the Jewish community, bigots were inspired to attack Jews and Jewish symbols across the U.S. after the Pittsburgh synagogue mass murder.
Not so long ago, the fight against anti-Semitism brought Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. together. Unfortunately, no more.
As Vox reported in November: “In 2018, an astonishing number of self-described white nationalists (including a former president of the American Nazi Party) ran for local, state, and national office in states from California to North Carolina – with the vast majority running as Republicans.”
Republicans had to scurry to speak out against one U.S. House candidate in California and one in Illinois. Both candidates – who were Holocaust deniers – lost their races, but got 26 percent of the vote in one case and 29 percent in the other.
Of much greater worry is the failure of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to denounce and sanction two new Democratic members of the House.
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Rashida Tlaib deserve condemnation for their support of the anti-Semitic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that advocates cutting ties with Israel, and for supporting a one-state solution in the Holy Land that would mark the end of Israel.
In fact, Pelosi appointed Omar to a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
So how should Americans respond this International Holocaust Remembrance Day?
Take your kids to a museum that tells the story of the Holocaust if you can – now or in the next few months. They need to learn about this terrible chapter in history so mass murder is never perpetrated again against any group anywhere.
Take your children to a local synagogue to meet an aging Holocaust survivor. It is an experience they will always remember and cherish. And sadly, Holocaust survivors are rapidly dwindling in numbers, so meet them while you can.
Read “The Diary of Anne Frank” together. Explain to your children that there is evil in the world and that they must have the courage to confront it.
As for anti-Semitism, every man and woman of good will should stand up and be counted to oppose this evil – at your workplace, on your campus, in your church – wherever it rears its ugly head.
And finally, we should all heed the words British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote this week in the Book of Commitment at the Holocaust Educational Trust in her country to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day:
“No words can ever do justice to the six million who were so cruelly murdered in the Holocaust but we can pay a fitting tribute through our deeds today. In a world where hatred of others is becoming increasingly commonplace, we can choose to stand as one against those who peddle it.
“At a time when Jews are being targeted simply because of who they are, all of us of any faith can come together in their defence … we can once again commit ourselves to remembering those who were murdered, and to ensure that such a human catastrophe is never permitted to happen again.”