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Growing antisemitism: We need Holocaust education for young people – World Jewish Congress

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(c) World Jewish Congress / Shahar Azran

Below is a full translation of an
op-ed written by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

It
was 76 –years ago today that a single Soviet soldier walked through the gates
of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and was unable to comprehend what
he saw. To him and others, the camp resembled a prison complex, but the
mountains of lifeless bodies, the terrible smell, and the surviving prisoners
indicated that this was not that at all. “They neither greeted us nor smiled,” wrote
Primo Levi, a former Auschwitz prisoner. “They seemed overwhelmed, not
only with compassion, but also with a confused restraint that sealed their lips
and glued their eyes to this burial site.” Primo Levi had the impression
that the soldiers who saw them were ashamed.

Since
that day, gifted writers, philosophers and theologians have attempted to
explain what these soldiers discovered within the notorious gates, and yet no
one has found an adequate response commensurate with the horrors encountered.
Perhaps author Primo Levi’s concept of shame comes closest to how the whole
world felt when it saw this desecration of human life. It is not only Germany
that bears the burden of this desecration. Presumably, all people feel shamed by
the abyss of evil with which we have become acquainted.

Jews
are afraid once again.

Shortly
after World War II, it appeared that the virus of antisemitism was finally
defeated. No one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis.
Even its proponents, who still cling to their hateful philosophy, at least
understood that they had to hide it. But today, three generations and 76 years
later, what do we do about the resurgence of antisemitism? During the coronavirus
pandemic, antisemitism increased by 18 percent worldwide. And Jews have even
been blamed for the virus. When the plague raged in Europe in the 14th century,
Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Today, internet caricatures portray
jets affixed with the Star of David dropping the virus on innocent victims: a
new technology, but still the same scapegoat.

Europe
has always been a breeding ground for hatred of Jews, but today such hatred
appears all over the world. It comes from the far-right and the far-left, from
the Middle East, and even from my own country, the United States – a fact that
I am particularly sorry to see. In a year in which racial conflict divided
America, 62 percent of all religious hate crimes were directed at Jews. In
Germany, antisemitic incidents doubled
in the last three years, with more than 2,000 incidents recorded in 2019.

There
is absolutely no other country that has dealt with its responsibility for the
Second World War more openly, honestly, and decently than Germany. Not Austria,
not Japan. Your chancellors from Adenauer to Brandt to Angela Merkel have shown
the world what responsible leadership means. You enlightened the post-war
generation, sometimes at the cost of family peace. But as I walked through the
synagogue that was attacked in Halle, when I spoke to the people there, and
when I learned that Jews have again become afraid of wearing symbols of their
religion in public, I wondered whether enough is being done to enlighten the
younger generation.

One
and a half million children murdered.

I
think we need to upgrade Holocaust education. I know education is an issue in
itself, but if regular schooling is not enough to prevent ignorance, additional
efforts have to be made, just as when we are confronted with any other problem
where the existing responses are inadequate. Governments in Europe, and
especially in Germany, must therefore think about establishing an additional
compulsory program in Holocaust education beyond what is done today. This also
includes Holocaust education for university students during their introductory
lectures. Moreover, we need to find ways to reach those who are not getting a
college education, possibly through social media. But we must do something.

History
teaches us that if we don’t pay close attention, if we ignore the warning signs
all around us, if we fail to counter antisemites with the truth, honesty and strict
legislation, then in the end, all people will suffer.

The
past should not become the future.

Yes,
Germany started persecuting the Jews in 1933, but within 12 short years an
entire continent was in ruins and 60 million people were dead. There is one
more number that remains that breaks our hearts in the process: one and a half
million. That is the number of Jewish children who were murdered in the gas
chambers, shot by soldiers of the task force, or starved to death on the
streets of the ghettos. If these children were allowed to lead a normal life
like your children, they would have been educated, married, started a family
and had children of their own. I have always wondered what scientific
discoveries, what great literature and music has been lost to the world.

The
world’s indifference led to the crimes of the Third Reich, and the whole world
suffered from this indifference. In the conversations I have had with Holocaust
survivors, I experienced the real fear of seeing again the seeds of hatred that
were being implemented as the “Final Solution.” These honorable and
good people who had done nothing wrong – except that in Germany’s eyes they
were born Jewish – everything was taken from them. Their parents. Their
families. Their homes. Everything.

And
yet, they left the horror behind and never sought revenge. They simply lived a
life of quiet dignity. It would be a crime if their past became the future of
their grandchildren. I say to the people in Germany: Do not allow your own past
to become the world’s future.

This content was originally published here.

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