Lauder at Auschwitz: Apathy and indifference helped Nazi atrocities

“The world did not care. That’s when [Hitler] knew that he could build this factory of death,” Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress said.

Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress speaking at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress speaking at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Seventy-five years ago today, when Soviet troops entered these gates, they had no idea what lay behind them. And since that day, the entire world has struggled with what they found inside,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said Monday at a ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau marking the 75th anniversary of its liberation.
He addressed more than 200 survivors and delegates and political leaders from more than 50 countries, including President Reuven Rivlin, Polish President Andrzej Duda and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Lauder recounted that while Nazi Germany carried out the shattering evil of Auschwitz, the apathy and indifference of the nations of the world contributed as well.
“The United States organized a conference in Evian, France, in July of 1938 to discuss the Jewish refugee crisis,” he said. “There were a lot of lovely speeches, but America did not let any additional Jewish refugees in, and every other country in attendance followed its lead. There were 32 countries and none of them, except for the tiny Dominican Republic, wanted any more Jews.”
Hitler noted the world’s reaction, and at every step, tested the world, Lauder said.
“He saw the truth. The world did not care. That’s when he knew that he could build this factory of death,” he said.
Lauder said the actions of the righteous among the nations who risked their lives to save Jewish lives will never be forgotten.
Seventy-five years ago, when the world learned of the horrors of Auschwitz, nobody in their right mind wanted to be associated with Nazis,” he said. But today, “I see something I never thought I would see in my lifetime – the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred throughout the world once again.”
Lauder said that while antisemitism cannot be eradicated, “we cannot look the other way and pretend this isn’t happening. That’s what people did throughout the 1930s, and that is what led to Auschwitz.”
The same lies and propaganda that the Nazis used so effectively in the 1930s – “Jews have too much power, Jews control the economy and the media, Jews control governments, Jews control everything” – are being repeated online, in the media and even from democratic governments, he said.
Lauder said today’s leaders should act decisively to stop the spread of antisemitism by passing laws to imprison hate mongers and to educate children so that they know where hatred can lead. In addition, he said, countries should stop casting votes in favor of what he called “the UN’s constant and shameful fixation on Israel.”
In the past seven years, the UN General Assembly has adopted 202 resolutions condemning countries around the world, Lauder said. Of those 202 resolutions, Israel was condemned 163 times and the rest of the world only 39.
“It’s clear as day that this kind of obsessive anti-Zionism is nothing but antisemitism,” he said.
Auschwitz is surrounded by numbers, Lauder said: “Seventy-five years, 1933, 1938, six million.” But the loss of one and a half million Jewish children in the Holocaust is especially heartbreaking, he said. Had they survived, they would have grown to adulthood and raised a new generation.
“But something else was lost as well,” he said. “What could these one and a half million have created for us all? What symphonies? What great literature? What technology? What medical breakthroughs did we lose from these lost souls?”
Lauder recounted a story from the Eichmann trial in 1961, when witnesses recounted their experiences in Auschwitz. He told the story of a man who was separated from his wife and daughter at the platform in the camp.
“‘There were so many people, I didn’t know how I could keep my eye on them,’ he said. But he was able to see his daughter, who was wearing a bright red coat, until the coat became smaller and smaller in the distance, and she finally disappeared. The Israeli prosecutor, Gabriel Bach, was unable to continue after hearing the man’s testimony.
“Years later, Bach explained that, as fate would have it, he and his wife had just bought their three-year-old daughter a little red coat. And Gabriel Bach said that to this day, if he goes into a sports stadium or a restaurant, or he’s just walking down a street in Jerusalem, and he sees a little girl in a red coat, his throat will tense up and he cannot speak,” Lauder said.
“This is the legacy of Auschwitz, and it will never go away,” he said. “When we hear something that is antisemitic, when we hear someone talk about Israel unjustly, when Jews are attacked on your streets, do not be silent. Do not be indifferent. And do not just do this for the Jewish people around the world.”
“Do this for your children, do this for your grandchildren, but also, do this for the little girl in the red coat,” Lauder said.