Holocaust history and the effects of its absence


Dani Fessler

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations to be commemorated on Jan. 27. This date was chosen as the same date that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army.

In the text of Resolution 60/7, which established the commemoration of the day, the U.N. General Assembly called for nations not only to remember the horrors of the Holocaust, but also to teach its history to new generations, rebuke Holocaust denial, preserve any sites or camps of concentration and destruction, and denounce xenophobia and race-based or religious-based violence.

This was done lest we forget what happened, and ensure that genocides such as the one committed during World War II will not be repeated.

In the past few weeks, mainstream media in the United States unveiled disturbing images, including one of a group of Wisconsin high-schoolers apparently giving the Nazi salute.

Youth in Indianapolis, Wisconsin and other places make regular use of the Nazi salute and other Nazi symbols in this day and age. One of the teenagers in the Wisconsin photos was quoted saying, with pride: “I hate all races equally.”

These kinds of images were seen in Nazi Germany before the onset of World War II, and were part of an active program of the National Socialist Party to recruit support from all strata of the population. When the Nazi Party seized power in March 1933, all children and teenagers were required to be part of the party’s youth organization — the Hitler Youth.

Are these images from the United States in 2019 an indication and warning for things to come? When viewed on the evening news or on the front page of a newspaper, some might cry out and say: “How can this be?” or “This is just horrible.” Some might think that this is rebellious teen spirit and these children do not fully know what they are doing. They are ultimately innocent and they’re all good children.

Some might even move on to the next page, ignoring the images and not seeing the problem.

Comments made by the principals of the schools where these teenagers attend came quickly and viewed this behavior with harshness, saying it goes counter to every value the schools and communities try to teach these young adults.

The use of Nazi symbolism is protected under the First Amendment and some of the teenagers were even quoted saying so. They are right, and some might say that this constitutes hate-speech and that it should be outlawed.

While the kind of rhetoric these teenagers use is fueled by hate, we must not forget that the very Nazi Party that was democratically elected in 1933 used speech-restricting laws to cement its grasp on power and outlaw any other party that held different views.

By taking the liberties of one group, you endanger yours from being taken as well. Freedom and liberty cannot be sustained unless they are provided for all. Furthermore, Nazi symbolism is banned and outlawed in most countries in Europe, and that has done little to prevent the rise of neo-Nazi groups on the continent. Therefore, restricting speech is not the solution.

Seeing images like these on International Holocaust Remembrance Day of 2019 should worry us and move us out of our comfort and indifference zone. We must call for clear and decisive action across all states to establish mandatory school programs that teach the history of the Holocaust and the humanitarian disciplines that may prevent another one.

The chapter of history that is World War II is still very recent in memory and is critical to understanding the state of our world today and the dangers that it still faces. This should not be a matter exclusive to the Jewish community and other minorities, but as the top priority for anyone whose life, liberty and security matter to them.

The images that were released to the public on Jan. 27, 1945, on the day of liberation of Auschwitz should be at the back of our minds constantly when faced with the threats to our modern society. We mustn’t observe idly as young minds are corrupted by hate and lack of knowledge, but take active measures to teach tolerance and liberal values.

And we should start in Pennsylvania, where, as of Jan. 27, 2019, no mandatory program of teaching Holocaust history exists.

— Dani Fessler is CEO of the York Jewish Community Center.


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