Worrying trends 80 years after the Holocaust

If this trend continues, sometime in the near future other polls might show the majority of millennials claiming that there never was a Holocaust.

May 5, 2019 21:42
4 minute read.

Holocaust memorial candles. (photo credit: TED EYTAN/FLICKR)

Every year during our Passover Seder we recite the verse from the Haggadah: “A person is obligated to see himself as if he, too, was freed from slavery in Egypt.” Remarkably, Maimonides, the great medieval doctor and thinker, changed the text to read: “A person is obligated to show himself as if he was freed from slavery in Egypt.”

Why did Maimonides change “seeing yourself” to “showing yourself”? A candid look at our world may provide the answer. Hate and antisemitism have become contagious, posing a serious threat to the United States and Western civilization.

These past few months alone we have witnessed horrific attacks on cemeteries and university campuses, culminating in the brazen assaults in broad daylight on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that took the lives of 11 people. This was followed a few days ago by the attack on Passover at the Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, murdering one and wounding three, including the rabbi.

This, combined with the dramatic uptick of antisemitism around the world – even from the house of Washington and Lincoln by Rep. Ilhan Omar who told the world that, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” – that is, it’s Jewish money that buys politicians. If that wasn’t enough, she later added, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for an allegiance to a foreign country.”

Even more frightening is that 80 years after the Holocaust, in which one-third of world Jewry was murdered, a Claims Conference survey showed that almost half (49%) of millennials in the United States could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto. That means they never even heard of Auschwitz, Treblinka or the Warsaw Ghetto. The poll also showed that 41% of millennials believe that fewer than two million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

If this trend continues, sometime in the near future other polls might show the majority of millennials claiming that there never was a Holocaust.

This is the time for educators and clergy to do something: to stop treating antisemitism and bigotry as if it were a sidebar or footnote, when in reality they have gone mainstream. Our schools and universities must recognize that the hate which threatens American values will not go away by itself. Courses in the study and history of antisemitism and bigotry should be a required part of every university student’s liberal arts curriculum.


TODAY, 86% of Americans take vitamins, and 44% take prescription medications. We don’t wait for things to happen, we take preventive measures to avoid them.

Most of us drive cars, and we know the difference between flashing yellow lights and red lights; when we can make the turn and when we cannot. Still, society demands the right to recheck our skills every 10 years irrespective of a perfect driving record – because driving is hazardous and we want to make sure that drivers are alert.

That is precisely what we must do with our humanity. We must constantly renew it, especially in difficult times when our country is vulnerable and in need of our service.

That especially applies to the entertainment and social media platforms which have become our lifeline, where billions of people turn for their information. Hollywood must rise to the occasion, especially when the bedrock of Western civilization is under threat. If we look at the tens of thousands of films that have been produced over the past decade, we will be shocked to find how small a percentage of them deal with the crucial subjects of hate, bigotry and antisemitism that now threaten our planet. They, too, must re-check themselves.

We must be certain that our children and grandchildren know the unbelievable truth: that out of the 13 men who sat around the table at Wannsee plotting the extermination of an entire people, seven had earned the equivalent of a PhD from Europe’s most prestigious universities.

Perhaps that is why Maimonides made his important correction. His point was to teach us that if you want to prevent a reoccurrence of hate and antisemitism, it’s not enough to just imagine yourself as having been a slave. Rather, you should rise up – in your community, in your classroom, in your place of employment – and demonstrate through some humanitarian act that you understand the difference between imagining a bitter herb and tasting one, of what it means to have been a Holocaust survivor, a slave or a victim of hate. When we understand that, our world will be a lot safer, and America will continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave – and the State of Israel’s greatest friend.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Strength is granted to us when we are needed... to serve great causes.” My friends, this is such a time.

The writer is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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