Sunday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day set aside by the UN to remember all the victims of the Nazis in World War II, including approximately 6 million Jews. The date was chosen because on January 27, 1945, Russia’s Red Army liberated the largest of the concentration/death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, which alone was responsible for the deaths over a million people. (The official US observance is the 8-day Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, which starts in April on the Sunday before the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah.)
This year, surviving former Auschwitz prisoners gathered there to mark the 74th anniversary of their liberation. It’s especially important now to hold such remembrances and give them as much attention as we can because the world is in danger of letting the vows of “Never forget” and “Never again” slip away into history. Today, we see anti-Semitism back on the rise, not just on the right but on the left, from the leaders of the Women’s March to some recently-elected “progressive” Congress members. Anti-Semitism, like all bigotry, and Holocaust denial find a fertile field in ignorance, and sadly, many young people are not being taught what actually happened during those dark times. To them, “Hitler” is just a bad name that they call anyone who disagrees with their politics.
A new poll by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that 5% of adults in the UK don't believe the Holocaust happened, and 64% either don't know how many Jews were murdered or underestimate the number. It’s little better in the US, where a recent survey found that about 40% of Americans don't know what Auschwitz was, and that includes a shocking two-thirds of Millennials.
Blogger Jeff Dunetz provided a sobering round-up of prominent people who are “mainstreaming” anti-Semitism by either openly embracing it and Holocaust denial, or aiding those movements by downplaying the scope and horror of the Nazi genocide.
I know where Auschwitz was because I’ve been there, multiple times. It is impossible to stand in that cursed place and not feel the weight of the sadness, loss, terror and evil in the very air around you. Once you’ve been there, I guarantee you will “never forget.” Unfortunately, too many people haven’t been there, and haven’t been taught what happened there and in other such camps. I like to believe that no human being who really understands what this was about could possibly feel anything but revulsion at the very idea of anti-Semitism. And yet, it’s on the rise, which tells us we need to redouble our efforts to teach our children this history.
We all know that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. This is a chapter of history we must never allow to be repeated.