Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press
The United Nations designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated this week, to remember the six million Jewish victims and millions of other victims of the Holocaust. This Day marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a set of work-death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. The hope is to confront hatred and make sure that we do not forget, ignore, or stay silent on the lessons of this history.
As the Allies approached, the Nazis attempted to silence history by obliterating the evidence of their industrialized genocide. We were not to know that during the months of August to October 1942, there were 15,000 murders per day. But the survivors are testament to the true horrors of Auschwitz. Their stories are proof against Holocaust Denial that it never happened. But, it’s been seventy-five years, three generations, since Auschwitz was liberated and this may be the last major anniversary of that liberation with living witnesses.
Keeping history alive is part of eliminating the hate and inhumanity that led to this historic factory of annihilation. Fueled by racism, nationalism, ethnic cleansing, and anti-Semitism, these influences are ever-present. This president has called groups reflecting these ideas as ‘good people’. Is such approval intentional or ignorant as when the White House approved TruNews to accompany it Trump to Davos’ forum, despite TruNews calling the impeachment a “Jew coup”.
Education might help but mandatory Holocaust education isn’t universal. When I recently taught in a high school class about the Holocaust, the effect of that lack of education was evident. The class was an elective, so I asked why students had elected to take the course, I was one mildly surprised when one responded, “I wanted to hear both sides of the story.”
What people hear and read about the Holocaust inevitably shapes their thinking. It used to be about books. My father, who was a World War II military intelligence officer and liberator, used to say that he could tell the political leanings of suspected Nazis just by looking at their book case for justifications and propaganda. Today, there are all kinds of denials, fake news, and recruitment ideology out there in cyberspace. And young people, as well as the alienated, hopeless, and enraged, are being targeted by the perpetrators of this hate.
Churches, synagogues and mosques are targeted around the country and the world. Will hate sprout in our own backyard? Take a look at The Times Free Press article about a training base for The Base on the outskirts of Rome, Georgia.
The Base is a network of small, secretive extremist groups set on death and destruction. Two of these neo-Nazis were caught before they killed two ’race traitors’ with 1550 rounds of ammunition usually used with automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
Many extremist groups are less secretive. At Virginia’s pro-gun rally, the League of the South, American Guard, and Proud Boys filled the streets beyond the barricades. Many sported semi-automatic weapons, some wore patches with “RWDS” (“Right-Wing Death Squad”), a few marched with a massive guillotine, others held noose-strung effigies.
Many of us look the other way saying, “At least no one was shot.” Are we waiting for a shoot-out to act? I imagine Holocaust Survivors and my father saying, “Don’t allow extremists automatic weapons and don’t ignore their threats. Don’t give official standing to anti-Semitic news organizations. And tell the Senate to pass the Never Again Education Act that just passed the House. If we don’t educate the next generation about human dignity now, then when?”
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Updated August 2020
Some folks are indeed listening and the Never Again Education Act has passed. Yet a group like Qanon is going mainstream with a Georgia election win from someone with a history of making racist, Islamophobic and anti-Jewish remarks, as well as supporting QAnon conspiracy theories. These extremist political theories fuel hate and groups within Qanon are apparently offering biblical re-interpretation using these theories.