Seventy-five years ago today, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp was liberated by allied forces, but not before an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered between 1940 and 1945. January 27th has since been recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, so that the world might never forget the 6 million European Jews killed in Holocaust. As we reflect on the horrors committed against the Jewish people in the not-so-distant past, we must keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive in the face of increasing threats against Jewish communities around the globe.
Survivors of the Holocaust spoke at an event held at Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum to commemorate the anniversary. David Marks, a 91-year-old survivor, told the audience, "We would like that the next generation know what we went through, and it should never happen again." Marks lost 35 family members in Auschwitz after they were transported there from their Romanian village. "A dictator doesn't come up from one day to the other," he said, it occurs in "micro steps... If we don't watch it, one day you wake up and it's too late."
This is a call to action. Violence and discrimination motivated by the age-old hatred of anti-Semitism is once again on the rise around the world. The month of December saw multiple attacks on Jews in the U.S., including a knife attack against dozens of people in a rabbi's home in New York and a violent rampage at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey which left three bystanders dead.
On the international stage, Europe is a hotspot for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic attacks across the globe rose 13 percent in 2018 from the previous year, and the highest number of incidents occurred in major Western democracies.
A revealing 2018 CNN survey conducted in Europe found that many Europeans still hold on to anti-Jewish stereotypes. Almost one in four people said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars across the world, and one in five believe anti-Semitism is a response to the everyday actions of Jews. These alarming responses indicate the breadth of the problem is such that it cannot go unaddressed.
Old anti-Semitic tropes are surfacing again in public discourse around the world, and the United States is not immune. A recent report conducted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief specifically note that "the claims that the objectives, activities and effects of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are fundamentally antisemitic." The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) initiative is intended to harm Israeli or international companies that critics say are "complicit" in human rights violations against Palestinians. However, the BDS movement rejects the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, and the Anti-Defamation League said the movement is "rampant with misinformation and distortion." Marginalizing Jews from the marketplace has been a tactic of anti-Semites in the past, and we cannot let allow this strategy to be effective today.
The Trump administration has rightly made international religious freedom a foreign policy priority. The effort to combat anti-Semitism falls squarely in the agenda for international religious freedom, because if Jews around the world face intimidation, threats, and violence simply for expressing their faith, they don't have religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing earlier this month to assess this global threat and how U.S. foreign policy can counter it.
At the hearing, Rabbi Abraham Cooper drew attention to anti-Semitism in Europe, pointing to the failure of several European governments including France, Sweden, and Germany to protect their Jewish citizens.
Anti-Semitism is an ancient, persistent hatred and there are no easy solutions. While that can be discouraging, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt encouraged those at the USCIRF hearing not to give up in the face of unreasonable hatred towards the Jewish people. "We must expose its conspiratorial, irrational, and delusion nature. We must challenge others who engage in it. We must familiarize ourselves with its history and understand the terrible consequences of ignoring it."
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, calls anti-Semitism the "canary in the coalmine of global hatred." Where the freedom of religion for the Jewish people is not respected, it won't be respected for anyone else either. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a call to action to counter the senseless hatred of anti-Semitism wherever it arises and to stand for the right of all, including the Jewish people, to live out their faith.
For more reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day and the rising tide of anti-Semitism, read FRC's David Closson and Arielle Del Turco's op-ed, Remembering the Holocaust Amid Rising Anti-Semitism.