Every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we say “Never Again.” To many of us, to forget would be impossible. But for each new generation, the memory of the Holocaust grows more distant. Only by remembering can we prevent the repetition of history – by teaching, educating, and having difficult conversations.
“Never Again” means thinking the unthinkable: that it can and will happen again, if we are not constantly vigilant. As the son of Holocaust survivors and a lifelong Jewish advocate, I have a duty to my ancestors, to my children and to my people to preserve that memory. In light of that duty, I would like to share with you five reasons why everyone must remember and understand the Holocaust today.
1. The Holocaust happened recently.
Seventy-four years ago, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. And 74 years sounds like an awfully long time. But if you were not around in 1945, your parents were, or your grandparents.
This fall, I had the privilege of seeing my grandson, Alex, deliver a moving speech about antisemitism. In that moment, I felt newly connected to the future of the Jewish people. Then, I thought of my own grandfather, burned alive in the very house in which he sought shelter.
Two generations is more than enough for the whole world to change.
2. No one saw it coming.
We like to think we could see a genocide from a mile away, but that’s simply not true. In fact, most of the world did not realize the extent of the Holocaust until years after the end of World War II.
Jews were well integrated into German society over the course of several hundred years. German Jews felt relatively safe prior to the rise of Nazism; even after Hitler became chancellor, they could not have known what was coming.
It’s easier, more digestible, to think the signs were obvious. The warning signs for the next genocide will not be clear either, until it is too late.
3. It only takes a decade.
The nightmarish ideology of the Third Reich did not develop overnight, yet the actual timeline of escalation is horrifyingly short. Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933. Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was in November 1938. By 1941, the Nazis’ “Final Solution” was under way. By 1945, it was over.
That’s 12 years from the first anti-Jewish law the Nazis passed to the six millionth Jew they murdered. It is critical that we remember not only the scale of the Holocaust, but the speed at which the Nazis went from being a fringe hate group to the architects of hell on earth.
4. It could happen to any group.
The Holocaust doesn’t hold lessons only for the Jewish people, but for all minority groups, everywhere. Again, Jews felt safe in German society.
The organization I lead, the American Jewish Congress, was founded in 1918 on the principle that in order to build a better society for Jews, it must be better for everyone. Conversely, freedoms and rights are not truly protected for anyone, if they are not protected for everyone. As long as we live in a world where genocide can occur against any group, no group is truly safe from genocide.
5. The warning signs
are here today.
In recent years, we have seen a striking surge in antisemitism. FBI statistics on hate crimes show that crimes against Jews in 2017 accounted for more than half of all hate crimes against any religious group.
In October, 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were gunned down because they were Jewish.
The year 2017 saw a 37% increase in antisemitic hate crime – rising for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, a recent CNN poll revealed that 1 in 20 Europeans had never heard of the Holocaust.
Last year, Poland passed a bill to deny Polish involvement in the Holocaust. This denial is a lie. Just ask my grandfather.
But that’s not all. In our divided political climate, hateful ideas are taking root as I have never seen before. In November, Arthur Jones, a Holocaust-denying American Nazi, ran for a seat in the US Congress and won 25% of the vote in his district.
Just this month, US Congressman Steve King was censured for defending white supremacy. Months ago, he met with a Nazi-founded far-right group during a trip to Auschwitz funded by a Holocaust memorial group. He has been elected eight times.
These are the warning signs. It can happen here. We cannot afford to miss the signs again. If given the chance, it will be attempted again.
But we have one advantage over Germans in the 1930s: Now we know the stakes. We have seen what is possible.
So today, 74 years later, I call upon each of you to remember. Remember what happens when good men and women do nothing. Remember that “Never Again” is not just a phrase – it is a promise we make to each other.
The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.
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