On Jan. 27, the international community came together to memorialize the Holocaust. This year’s commemoration of the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people is especially important. Not solely because it honors the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but also due to the recent sharp rise in antisemitic rhetoric and attacks around the world.
Antisemitism takes many forms and has many causes. It has led to the persecution of the Jewish people over thousands of years and should have disappeared with the advent of modern human rights. Yet instead of waning away, the oldest surviving form of hate and its accompanying violence are on the march. Jew hatred is unique in that it can stem from individuals, religious leaders, organizations and governments across the globe, even in places where there are no Jews. Politically, antisemitism stems from both the far right and the far left.
Although it poses a real and tangible threat to Jews and Jewish communal life around the world, antisemitism is often tolerated in a way that hatred toward other groups is not.
Antisemitism has always thrived in times of unrest, when conspiracy theories spread and scapegoats are sought. During the times of the Holocaust, the loss of a costly war and the subsequent economic downturn in Germany turned the Jews into Hitler’s scapegoat. The ascent of social media, combined with the frustration of a two-year pandemic, has created a toxic ecosystem in which Jews again are frequently being targeted for hatred. In fact, as recently as last week there was a concerted effort to blame Jews for the COVID-19 pandemic through the distribution of antisemitic flyers in cities such as San Francisco and Miami. As with all forms of hatred, hate-filled words quickly become hate-filled actions.
The rise in antisemitism, particularly since the start of COVID, has coincided with a disturbing escalation in Holocaust denial and distortion. We have an obligation to those 6 million people murdered during the Holocaust to spread the truth of their experience and prevent further distortion of history.
Holocaust denial is nothing new, however, the deniers can now reach audiences open to embracing conspiracy theories fueled by these uncertain times. With an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) survey finding that only 54% of the world’s population had ever heard of the Holocaust, it is no wonder that deniers exploit this lack of knowledge to rewrite history.
Others, either through their own ignorance or by willfully manipulating historical fact, use Holocaust-related themes to advance their unrelated agendas. This type of distortion minimizes and simplifies the impact of the Holocaust and is recognized as a form of Holocaust denial by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Comparisons to the horrors of the Holocaust — during which 6 million Jews were horrendously and systematically murdered — are not only preposterous, they are evil. Trivializing the suffering of those targeted for extermination by comparing it to modern-day difficulties sullies the memory of the victims.
The fight against antisemitism in general, and Holocaust denial and distortion in particular, is not one that should be fought solely by Jews and their allies, or even the Jewish state. It is a struggle that must be waged by the international community, as well as by every state, local government, and organization dedicated to civil rights and anti-racism. Moreover, each individual who believes that hatred and disinformation endanger democracy and the values we live by must join in this good fight.
For its part, Israel is committed to combating antisemitism and honoring the memory of the Holocaust. Israel alongside Germany introduced a United Nations resolution on Holocaust denial. Adopted by consensus in the General Assembly on Jan. 20, the resolution contains practical measures, such as calling on states and U.N. agencies to proactively develop educational programs. The resolution also introduces the international community to the need for tech companies to act against antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Israel is also taking the initiative on a local level to combat antisemitism and highlight the reality of the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest commissioned a free concert in Seattle where the group Music of Remembrance performed songs based on, and written by, survivors of the Holocaust. The consulate also ran a social media campaign during the week of Holocaust Memorial Day to amplify the voices of those who witnessed the horrors of the Shoah firsthand. Steps such as these go a long way to honor the memory of the victims and push back against those who would have us believe their suffering never occurred.
Ignorance of the attempted genocide of the Jewish people only seven decades ago should no longer be acceptable. Silence in the face of Jew hatred can no longer be tolerated. As the last generation of Holocaust survivors reaches old age, the burden of remembering the past and teaching future generations passes to us all. I want to end on a more personal level with a quote by Primo Levi that has never rang truer than it does today: “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”