“Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.” – Prince Charles
It has been 75 years since the Red Army liberated Auschwitz and shut down the largest factory of death in human history where 1.1 million innocent men, women and children were murdered. The vast majority of these victims were Jewish. International Holocaust Remembrance Day which commemorates the liberation was observed this past Monday, January 27, 2020.
As the years go by, the numbers of Holocaust Survivors and witnesses are rapidly decreasing. Our generation will likely be the last generation who will have the opportunity to hear first hand the horrors that took place only 75 years ago.
Because of this, and with Holocaust deniers making efforts to deny or diminish the facts through lies and misinformation, the battle for the memory of the Holocaust is getting ever more urgent!
A recent Pew Research Poll indicates that less than half of Americans know how many innocent Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust (over 6 million) or how Hitler came to power (through democratic elections). The poll also demonstrated that Christians are among the groups who knew the least about the Holocaust.
As I reflect on these statistics I think there are several important lessons that we must remind ourselves of today.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe and North America especially with a huge spike in attacks on Jewish communities in the US, long seen as one of the safest havens for the Jewish people outside of Israel.
Not only Anti-Semitism, but all types of hate are on the rise. As MLK Day also has recently passed this month, I think of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King which still ring true today.
“There are Hitlers loose in America today, both in high and low places… As the tensions and bewilderment of economic problems become more severe, history’s scapegoats, the Jews, will be joined by new scapegoats, the Negroes. The Hitlers will seek to divert people’s minds and turn their frustration and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist, how effectively they reach the minds of the decent Americans to halt this deadly diversion…” Dr Martin Luther King
Dr. King understood the importance of the role of every decent person to make an effort to oppose hatred and to stand up for the oppressed. We all have a role to play in the fight against Anti-Semitism and hate.
We have a responsibility to oppose injustice, but doing so can come with a price. Those who seek to perpetrate acts of evil and hate on others will often target those who stand up in defense of the innocent. One recent example of this is recently filled the headlines of newspapers here in Israel.
Last week, leaders from around the world came to Israel to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Over 50 world leaders converged on Jerusalem, including President Macron of France, Prince Charles of the UK, President Putin of Russia, President Steinmeier of Germany, and Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Pelosi of the USA. They came to attend a series of memorials and efforts aimed to combat Anti-Semitism hosted at Yad Vashem.
This event made history as the largest diplomatic conference to ever take place in Israel. But even as the world leaders gathered, a publication linked to the Palestinian Authority printed an op-ed in which it condemned those who would acknowledge the terribleness of the Holocaust and called for acts of terror and attempts to assassinate a public figure during these events. Such unreasonable hate will make not only are the Jewish people a target, but also all who stand with them.
The Jewish people have been targeted for centuries as a result of Anti-Semitism. However, Jews were not the only victims of Auschwitz and we must remember that whenever a society allows hatred to break down the standards of justice that reflects God’s heart, then no one is safe.
The following quote may be familiar, but it still holds deep significance. Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who personally met with Hitler and initially supported the Nazis due to the promises Hitler made to protect the church’s status in Germany said the following after his release from a concentration camp where he ended up due to his opposition of Nazi theology infiltrating the church.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller
In memory of the Holocaust, we say “Never Again” however, in the 75 years since the Holocaust ended the world has seen countless revivals of hate. From the jungles of Rwanda to the killing fields of Cambodia, from the villages of Bosnia to the deserts of Iraq and Syria, genocides have continued to happened. The threat of hate is universal and can appear anywhere that it is allowed to.
At the recent forum at Yad Vashem marking the 75th anniversary, the German President said the following.
“I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading…I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur…The spirits of evil are emerging in a new guise, presenting their anti-Semitic, racist, authoritarian thinking as an answer for the future, a new solution to the problems of our age.” – President Frank-Walter Steinmeier
As more and more Holocaust Survivors pass from this world, one of their deepest desires is that we would have all learned from their experiences and that no one else would have to endure such hatred and unimaginable suffering.
Are we able to honor their memory in this way?
Have we learned our lessons from Auschwitz?
Your feedback is always appreciated. Please feel free to contact Jesse Corey, the author of this blog, with any questions or comments you may have.