January 7, 2019

Culture

The Time to Study the Holocaust is Now – and Always

By: Beth Bailey

2018 saw the most horrific – and deadliest – attack on Jews in US history when, on October 27, Robert Bowers killed eleven congregants at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. When police took Bowers into custody, he explained, “All these Jews have to die.”

Shortly after Bowers’ attack, 2017 FBI crime data was released that showed hate crimes against Jews had increased 37 percent from 2016. This marked the third year in a row in which the percentage of anti-Jewish hate crimes had risen. Though they comprise around 2.2 percent of the population, in 2017, Jewish people and Jewish institutions were the targets of 58.1 percent of hate crimes whose basis was religion.

It will be another year before we learn whether anti-Jewish hate crimes increased or decreased in 2018, but a quick look at headlines from the past months provides little good news.

-In the past weeks, swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti have been discovered on the home of a Jewish woman living in West Seattle; at the playground of Bel Aire Elementary School in Tiburon, California; across the faces of female leaders in the Black Panthers movement portrayed in black history murals on Crenshaw Avenue in Los Angeles; at three schools in Union County, New Jersey; at Goucher College in Maryland; and inside the office of a Jewish professor and Holocaust scholar at Columbia University.

-On November 1, former Democratic volunteer James Polite set seven fires at Williamsburg shuls and yeshivas and defaced Brooklyn’s Union Temple with graffiti threats and anti-Semitic slurs.

-On November 30, Mohammad Mohammad used his vehicle in an attempt to run over men in Orthodox Jewish dress who were leaving a Los Angeles shul. After reversing and trying again to hit the men, Mohammad shouted anti-Semitic slurs from his car until, distracted, he ran through a stop sign and hit another car.

-On December 1, a demonstration was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in which protestors placed signs outside a synagogue during Shabbat services. The largest sign showed the crossed-out flag of Israel, while another read “Israel: No Right To Exist.”

In the face of these incidents, some seek to blame President Donald Trump and his supporters for increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks in America. A poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 54 percent of polled individuals believed “Trump’s decisions and behavior have empowered white supremacist groups.” This perception cannot explain the rise in either the sentiment or the attacks, as both have been perpetrated by individuals from a variety of political and other backgrounds.

According to professor of Holocaust history Deborah E. Lipstadt, anti-Semitism is akin to a “herpes infection” in that it “lies dormant and re-emerges at times of stress. It does not go away.” Perhaps this re-emergence, then, is a product of all the hate that Americans have been flinging at one another since 2016.

Unfortunately, because our understanding of the realities of the Holocaust is dwindling, it will only become easier for politicians to mobilize the masses with misapplied, piecemeal “facts.” According to the findings of a study commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, as of early 2018, “11 percent of U.S. adults and more than one-fifth of millennials either haven’t heard of, or are not sure they have heard of, the Holocaust.” Forty-nine percent of millennials could not name one of the over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos that existed during the Holocaust. Thirty-one percent of adults and 41 percent of millennials believe that only two million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust. The real figure? Six million.

We can expect that, if we do not address the problem of growing ignorance of the Holocaust, politicians will continue to latch on to factotums taken out of context and weaponize the most gruesome events of the 20th century for the gain of their parties.

We can expect that, if we do not remember, we are bound to forget.

It is imperative that we act now – before the Jewish population of America feels as unsafe in their own country as do Jews in European countries like France, where more than ten percent of the Jewish population has emigrated, or Germany, where two-thirds of the Jewish population does not feel “part of German society.”

The world will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, on January 27, 2019. With anti-Semitism on the rise around the world, this year’s commemoration may be more important than ever before.

In pursuit of making a swift and meaningful course correction, the Detroit chapter of America’s Future Foundation will host a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills on Monday, January 14,at 6:30 pm. Following the tour at a neighboring brewpub, we will have an informal discussion of ways in which we can all stand up against hate and devote ourselves to learning about, and speaking about, the Holocaust in our daily lives.

We hope that you will join us, if not in person, then by making a plan to honor Yom HaShoah in your own way. You could gather friends to tour a local Holocaust museum, watch a documentary or film about the time period, or discuss of a work of nonfiction like The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal, or Night, by Elie and Marion Wiesel. At any time, you can head to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website to brush up on the facts by reading their comprehensive articles, which include a detailed timeline of events that starts years before the disenfranchisement and segregation of Jews, follows the machinations that led to the genocide of six million Jews and five million political “undesirables,” and continues on to detail genocides that have occurred throughout the world in the past two decades.

Studying the Holocaust is not a lighthearted activity. It can be draining, emotional, and tense. But we cannot afford to turn away from that history simply because it is difficult and gruesome. We must understand the context that allowed the genocide to occur, the language of hatred, and the development of the Nazi’s systematic approach to slaughter. If we fail to do so, then “Never Again” can become “Now.”

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