The lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten

This normalization of bigotry and hatred toward Jews will have profound implications for generations to come.

A Nazi's salute at a neo-Nazi rally in Kansas City, Missouri. (Dave Kaup/Reuters) (photo credit: DAVE KAUP / REUTERS)
A Nazi's salute at a neo-Nazi rally in Kansas City, Missouri. (Dave Kaup/Reuters)
(photo credit: DAVE KAUP / REUTERS)
‘Antisemitism is not a Jewish illness,” the preeminent Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer told world leaders in a speech in Jerusalem earlier this year marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, “but a non-Jewish one.”
Addressing the Fifth Holocaust Forum, Bauer went on to describe antisemitism as “a cancer that kills and destroys your nations and your countries.”
At first glance, this was perhaps a surprising statement to make at an event marking the date the Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camp where more than one million Jews were murdered, the engine of Hitler’s industrial slaughter machine.
What Bauer was saying, though, was that Hitler launched World War II for ideological reasons precisely because of his antisemitism and his belief in the need to protect humanity from “replacement by international Jewry.”
That it was this ideological motivation that plunged the world into darkness and led to war and tens of millions of deaths; in Europe, some 29 million non-Jewish deaths.
“So,” Bauer said, “there are, my friends, 29 million reasons for you to fight antisemitism. Not because of the Jews, but to protect your societies from a deadly cancer. Don’t you think that 29 million reasons are enough?”
Yet, as we mark the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, it seems that increasingly the lessons of those dark days are being forgotten.
Civil unrest and economic and political instability are growing and further radicalizing extremists and fueling antisemitism.
In the United States, recent civil rights protests have been infected with antisemitic discourse.
The coronavirus has led to a surge in classical antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes, blaming Jews for the outbreak of the pandemic, and at the same for both spreading infection and profiting from the disease.
Expressions of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on social media by prominent American and European public figures – celebrities, pop stars, athletes and influencers – are bringing hatred and intolerance toward Jews, Israel and the memory of the Holocaust into the mainstream.
This normalization of bigotry and hatred toward Jews will have profound implications for generations to come.
As economies around the world tremble under the weight of the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as unemployment becomes entrenched and protest and anti-government sentiment become endemic, extremism, hatred and antisemitism are only likely to increase, providing fertile ground for the spread of extremism just as they did some 80 years ago.
Before war broke out in September 1939, no one could have imagined the horrors that would emerge, but today we cannot say that we do not know what happens when hatred in all its forms rears its head, and as we mark another solemn anniversary, events must serve as a wakeup call.
We call on governments around the world to show zero tolerance toward antisemitism, all forms of intolerance and hatred toward all minorities; to broaden teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides, as well as the lessons of World War II and the period leading up to the outbreak of war.
Every year, as chairman of the International March of the Living, the quintessential expression of collective Holocaust memory, remembrance and Jewish identity, I lead a delegation to Auschwitz, a monument to human depravity, to the end product of hatred, intolerance and dehumanization.
As an educational organization, the International March of the Living is committed to teaching that all human beings are created in God’s image, and are worthy of equal dignity and respect; to build a world free of oppression and intolerance, a world of freedom, democracy and justice, for all members of the human family.
This year, because of the pandemic, the March of the Living was canceled, and in its place we are launching an innovative virtual community to inspire tolerance, inclusion and respect as a message to counter hatred, intolerance and bigotry.
We can no longer say we do not know that hatred and intolerance lead to war and genocide. We cannot afford to stand still for one moment.
We cannot let the antisemitism cancer spread unchecked.
The writer is chairman of the International March of The Living.