Holocaust survivors have joined with Facebook and the Claims Conference to fight antisemitism on social media in the #ItStartedWithWords campaign.
As part of the campaign, the survivors recorded videos explaining how words eventually led to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
The Claims Conference and Facebook
initiated the campaign in light of the success of the #NoDenyingIt campaign which aimed to combat Holocaust denial on social media.
The campaign stresses how the foundations of the Holocaust lay in verbal expressions of hatred.
“The Holocaust started with words,” said Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, in a press release. “Hateful words that were yelled in the park, spat on the street, and roared in the classroom. These words alienated, belittled, and shocked; but worse, these words gave birth to the horrific massacre of six million Jews.”
"You don’t wake up one morning deciding to participate in mass murder," said Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider in a press release. "Hate speech, propaganda, antisemitism, and racism were the roots that culminated in genocide."
A survey of US millennials in 2020 conducted by the Claims Conference found that 63% of millennials and Gen Z Americans did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Schneider stressed that this shows "how important it is, not just to teach the history of the Holocaust, but to provide context for how such a horrific outcome like the Holocaust started."
“The crematoria, gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere did not begin with bricks, it began with words…evil words, hateful words, antisemitic
words, words of prejudice. And they were permitted to proceed to violence because of the absence of words," said Holocaust survivor and former leader of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman in a video he recorded for the campaign.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau also took part in the campaign, stating in a video that "They thought they could eliminate a people with words. And then it turned out that it indeed happened."
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg stated that Facebook is "proud to be a partner with the Claims Conference in the #ItStartedWithWords campaign."
"Words have power," said Sandberg in a press release. "This campaign reminds us to learn from the past and understand how words of hatred and contempt, used against others, can have serious consequences. I am grateful to the Claims Conference that focused on this lesson so that we can remember the stories of Holocaust survivors and ensure that it never happens again."
Nearly 50 museums and institutions from around the world are supporting the campaign, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem and the Anna Frank House, among others.
The Claims Conference has also launch the website itstartedwithwords.org to provide resources and videos for educators around the world, including testimonies, teaching materials and information on exhibits and museums.