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International Holocaust Remembrance Day: When is ‘never again’ going to start?

As people across the nation settled in for Thanksgiving week last year, former President Donald Trump hosted Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and Nazi apologist Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, for dinner at his private residence at Mar-a-Lago. It exemplified a rising tide of antisemitism in this country led by hatemongers using mainstream social media platforms and other methods to spread their toxic propaganda.

Today, words like “Gestapo” or “Nuremberg” – words that carry such significant meaning regarding the Holocaust – are being casually thrown around for the cheap purpose of scoring a political point or media emphasis. While these words may have been used flippantly in the past, the extent of their use in the mainstream is new. The same is the case with relativism being used to minimize the Holocaust.

Doug Emhoff
During a roundtable discussion in Washington on Dec. 7, 2022, Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks with Jewish leaders about the rise in antisemitism in the U.S. (Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The seriousness of the situation was underscored last month, when second gentleman Doug Emhoff called together several Jewish organizations to combat antisemitism, including the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel International, Orthodox Union, the National Council of Jewish Women, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Jewish on Campus.

Antisemitism serves as a motivating ideology and connective tissue between hate groups that would otherwise seem unconnected. It also erodes democracy and creates divisions among those who must work together to dismantle structural racism in our system. These organizations will need the larger civil and human rights movement to join them to collectively call attention to the ways various versions of hate and extremism are connected, and rarely operate in isolation.

As we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, today is a time to reflect on the horrors of what it was, how it was undertaken and the permissive atmosphere that allowed it to happen. It is also a day to reaffirm that “never again” not only applies to the genocide and mass execution of Jewish people but to preventing the growth of the beliefs, attitudes, racism and distortion that allowed it to happen. It is incumbent on us to call out those who would use this horrific event to advance their own personal agendas, as much as those who try to create a false reality that the Holocaust was not that bad or that the Nazis were good people.

Revisionists like the Institute for Historical Review and the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust – both listed by the SPLC as hate groups – continue to publish and spread distortions and false equivalencies with just enough of a veneer of authenticity and scholarly inquiry to attract people to their work. The current attempts to ban books and attack education and honest historical inquiry provide a foundation for these charlatans and faux academics to gain traction.

A 50-state study of millennials and Generation Z (people ages 18 to 39) found a shocking 11% said they believed that Jews themselves created or caused the Holocaust. Roughly 60% of respondents did not know or had no knowledge of the 6 million Jews that were murdered, according to the study announced in late 2020 by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Forty-eight percent could not name a single ghetto or camp. Fifty-six percent could not identify the most notorious death camp, Auschwitz. Almost one-third of respondents (30%) had seen Nazi symbols or pro-Nazi propaganda posted in their own neighborhoods or in their social media feeds.

If “never again” is to mean anything, it is necessary to educate about the Holocaust – what it was, how it happened, why it happened and why it was allowed to happen. The one bright spot of this survey is that most respondents agree with that sentiment. Roughly 80% of those surveyed felt that it was essential to teach about the Holocaust.

But we must do more. With increasing efforts to ban books, frank discussions about our nation’s hard history curtailed and public education under attack, it is no surprise that revisionism, relativism and distortion continue. We must support Holocaust education and other long-term anti-bias education initiatives, digital literacy programs and other resilience-building prevention programs to address systemic racism. And we must deplatform and call out those seeking to revise or distort history. Those who relativize and normalize destructive and hateful words and phrases to score a point do so much damage to Holocaust memory and remembrance.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we must not simply commit ourselves to a day of reflection but rededicate our efforts to combat these destructive ideologies and beliefs throughout the country. We must acknowledge that the sentiments and beliefs that allowed the Holocaust to happen are still with us today – and if the last two years are any indication, rising.

Jews are not responsible for antisemitism, and Jews cannot end it by themselves. We all must embrace what “never again” truly means: We will not let these ideas and sentiments grow, we will educate about them, and we will call out and shut down those seeking to distort, deny and revise all aspects of the Holocaust.

Picture at top: As the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a rising tide of antisemitism in the U.S. threatens to erode democracy and create divisions among those who must work together to dismantle systemic racism. (Credit: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/Picture Alliance via Getty Images)