The term “Never Again” has been burned into my mind since childhood. In Jewish Day School, the lessons and horrors of the Holocaust were drilled into our psyche, even to the point of kids saying in class “…are we learning this again? What’s the point? We know it already.”
As much as myself and my Jewish classmates took this knowledge for granted, it appears that the Holocaust is being forgotten, and in some cases, not even taught.
Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the most notorious Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and remember the six million Jews, including two million children, two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population who were murdered in the Holocaust. Four million Poles, Gypsies, Blacks, Homosexuals, Political Dissidents, Disabled, Soviets, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbs and Romas were also executed by the Nazis for a total of 10 Million people.
As staggering of a number as that is, according to a recent poll, only 43 percent of Canadians are able to answer the question of how many Jews were killed during 1941 and 1945. In a 2018 according to the Washington Post, two-thirds of American millennials surveyed cannot identify what Auschwitz is and 22 percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it—twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same. The Holocaust is being forgotten.
We were warned this would happen. We were told by our Rabbis and teachers “…you may be the last generation to meet a survivor.” “Learn their stories because when they are gone, people will claim it never happened.” “People will forget and it is your job to make sure they never do because our enemies will use it against us.”
Every year, my Jewish High School Ramaz would do a special program for Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the end of the program they would ask any survivors present to leave the room. Then any children of survivors, followed by grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was powerful to see how few of us would be left if Hitler and the Nazis had finished the extermination of European Jewry. I was always one of the ones remaining behind in a nearly empty auditorium.
In 2004, I was volunteering as a director of Jewish Culture Clubs in Seattle area schools. The first day the flyers went up in one school advertising the clubs, someone drew Swastikas on the flyers. One of the students in the club told me that she wasn’t Jewish but came because she was curious. The following week, she told me she had gone home and told her parents that she had come to the club and they were horrified. They had kept hidden from her that she was Jewish her whole life because of a grandparent’s wishes who was a survivor.
Last year some of my family members received death threats because of my religion. My home and office were doxed. I was called a racist, a fascist, a white supremacist, a Nazi, and strangest of all, an anti-Semite by those who label themselves liberals, progressives and “anti Fascists”. One day I was venting about all this to my father and he told me “…that’s ironic. They are calling you a fascist and your family was murdered by fascists.” I was shocked. I was 38 years old and had no idea I had relatives killed in the Holocaust. When I asked my father why, it was an all too common answer among that generation “…your grandparents didn’t want to scare the grandkids.”
Some “progressive” Jews have taken this idea to the next level. In supplemental Hebrew Schools, Holocaust education for decades was a pillar of the curriculum. As supplemental Hebrew schools have continued to close in the wake of declining affiliation among less observant Jews, in the few remaining supplemental Hebrew schools, the curriculum has been distilled down to one phrase, “Tikkun Olam”. The concept of Tikkun Olam is an out of context line from the Jewish prayer Aleinu which has been co-opted to mean Social Justice. Progressive Jewish organizations parrot this line while often aligning their organizations with causes that are contrary to Jewish beliefs in the name of Social Justice.
One of the most extreme examples is a Jewish blogger named Richard Silverstein whose blog is named “Tikkun Olam”. Silverstein spends the majority of his posts demonizing Israel and those who support the Jewish state. He frequently defends known anti-Semites like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib. The cover of his Facebook page is even a holocaust survivor child looking into the reflection of what Silverstein thinks Israel has become, the very monster that persecuted the child featuring some of the worst Anti-Semitic tropes written in Hebrew.
My teachers and Rabbis were right. Despite all the museums, special curriculum and education grants, the Holocaust is being forgotten. Holocaust revisionism has become more mainstream. According to Time Magazine, “…despite overwhelming evidence and an admission and apology from Germany decades ago, revisionists continue to claim that nearly 6 million Jews were not killed by Nazis during the Holocaust. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for one, has called the Holocaust a “myth” and suggested that Germany and other European countries, rather than Palestine, provide land for a Jewish state.”
In 2006 Iran hosted the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust which attracted many high profile holocaust deniers including American’s Like David Duke and even Jews from Neturei Karta described by the Anti Defamation League as “the farthest fringes of Judaism”.
In the 1930s in Europe, many Jews were convinced that if they and their children assimilated into other cultures they would be spared. Hitler did not distinguish between who was an observant Jew and who was not and neither do today’s anti-Semites. The lesson we can learn from the Holocaust today is that in a world with a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks, our message must be clear. Never Again. We will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and never again go like lambs to the slaughter, but we must also teach our children to do it while being visibly Jewish and Proud. Now is not the time to hide who we are, rather to celebrate our heritage and be a “Kiddush Hashem”, sanctifying God’s name, proud of who we are and examples to the rest of the world of what Judaism is for those that were murdered, whose descendants were snuffed out and will never have the opportunity to do so.