By Shira Goodman
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a date designated by the United Nations to commemorate the Jews and other victims of the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. This date marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It is a day for the world to pause and learn about the Holocaust.
In some ways, it is unimaginable that we should dedicate a specific date to Holocaust remembrance.
How could anyone forget the horrors of the Holocaust – a systematic campaign to murder the Jews of Europe, resulting in the murder of six million Jews and millions of others, including LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities , priests, Poles, resistance fighters, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many more?
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Unfortunately, many are engaged in a campaign to forget, distort and deny the Holocaust. It’s not just a fringe project in hidden spaces online.
Holocaust deniers shout their lies in the great outdoors. For example, Iranian leaders specifically refuse to acknowledge Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and actively seek to sow doubt about it. And while European governments uniformly acknowledge the reality of the Holocaust, several Eastern European governments engage in outrageous examples of Holocaust distortion.
Today, too many others simply ignore historical truth. ADL’s first Global 100 survey of anti-Semitic attitudes in 2014 found that only 54% of respondents had heard of the Holocaust. Of these, 32% thought the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was grossly exaggerated or simply a myth. This, and other data points, confirmed the need for increased Holocaust education in the United States and around the world.
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Time and time again in recent years we have had to criticize those who use analogies to the Holocaust or Nazi Germany in wholly inappropriate comparisons. This includes politicians on both sides of the aisle and individuals engaged in all sorts of political debates, most recently focused on COVID restrictions, masking requirements and vaccination efforts. We have made it clear that this rhetoric is offensive and misguided and should not be tolerated, regardless of its source or the intentions of those using it.
The good news is that Holocaust education works. A September 2020 survey by Echoes & Reflections, a partnership education program of ADL, the USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, found that eight in ten U.S. college students say they have received at least some training on the Holocaust in high school, with more than 55% having watched survivor testimonies in person or via video.
Students who have received Holocaust education have been shown to have more pluralistic attitudes and are more open to different viewpoints, including being more comfortable with people of one race or different sexual orientation, having an increased willingness to challenge incorrect or biased information, to deal with intolerant behavior in others, and to resist negative stereotypes.
WATCH: State lawmakers commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day
Seventy-seven years after the end of the war, we have lost so many elderly Holocaust survivors. Those we have lost can no longer go to schools and religious congregations to share their stories and bear personal witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. It is our responsibility to continue to tell their stories and share their lessons.
Here are four things you can do on International Holocaust Remembrance Day:
- Read or listen to the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, as on the following link: https://sfi.usc.edu/what-we-do/collections
- Tell your US senators to confirm that Professor Deborah Lipstadt will be the US State Department’s next special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, a crucial role in combating antisemitism around the world.
- Tell Congress and the PA State Legislature to fully fund federal and state nonprofit security grant programs, which provide funds to synagogues, churches, mosques, religious institutions and other organizations. nonprofits to perform security upgrades to protect their members.
- Tell your state representative and senator to update the PA Ethnic Bullying Act to include sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and disability, so that all Pennsylvanians are fully protected from hate crimes.
From Kristallnacht to the forced roundups of Jewish ghettos, and ultimately, the deportation of Jews to Nazi slave labor camps, concentration camps and death camps across Europe, we remember it.
And we remember the words of Elie Wiesel, who said, “I learned that the Holocaust was a unique and uniquely Jewish event, albeit with universal implications. Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.
The Jews have been victims and witnesses of the most murderous hatred. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should all raise our voices to affirm that hate is hate and that it is our responsibility to interrupt and disrupt anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred whenever we witness it.
Shira Goodman is Director of Campaigns and Outreach at the Anti-Defamation League. She writes from Philadelphia.