On this day 76 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp where Nazi forces murdered more than 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them Jews. Greeted by starving prisoners rejoicing at their arrival, piles of corpses, and unthinkable living conditions, unknowing Soviet troops were horrified by what they saw. As more became known about its extermination center (Auschwitz-Birkenau), Auschwitz came to represent what may be the greatest anti-humanitarian crime in history: the systematic effort to destroy the Jewish people wherever they could be found on the globe.
Accordingly, January 27th is commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This commemoration is about that crime against one people in a specific place and time – the Jews who fell under Nazi control before May 10, 1945. As we recall the tireless Nazi effort to destroy the Jewish people, it is imperative that we also not overlook the current resurgence of Jew-hatred around the globe.
The anxiety and social strain of the current pandemic has served as an occasion for some to deploy modernized themes of ancient Jew-hatred. Abhorrent conspiracy theories simmered online, especially in Europe, during the pandemic. Hate-filled comments accused Jews of creating and spreading COVID-19 or, alternatively, asserting that the virus was simply a “hoax” concocted by Jews. Such absurd competing accusations demonstrate how antisemitism often manifests itself in expressions of irrational sentiment and bigotry.
Hatred toward Jews does not merely fester secretly online. In many Western countries, it thrives out in the open under the socially acceptable rubric of “anti-Zionism.” By claiming that the only Jewish state is inherently racist, akin to the South African apartheid regime, anti-Zionism denies the Jewish people their right to self-determination in a state and land of their own. It is particularly active on American university campuses, where the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement singles out Israel for economic punishment.
According to UN Watch, Israel has received 96 condemnatory resolutions from the UN General Assembly, many times more that notorious human rights abusers like North Korea, Myanmar, and Syria. This widely disproportionate targeting of the Jewish state indicates a prevalent anti-Jewish sentiment among world leaders.
In its annual report in 2020, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed serious concern over the rise of antisemitism in the world, especially in Europe. It cited examples including a 27% increase in antisemitic acts in France in 2019, a 7% increase in antisemitic incidents in the United Kingdom in 2019, and a pattern of antisemitic bullying in Sweden.
As the situation has grown more perilous for Jews in Europe, a 2019 survey found that 41% of young Jewish Europeans have considered emigrating from their native lands out of concern for their safety. Many Jews are now making plans to leave for Israel as many European governments have lost control of the situation with antisemitism becoming more widespread and violent. This reality would have been unimaginable twenty years ago.
In the Middle East, animus towards Jews runs hot and is ubiquitous. Iran stands apart as a country that espouses and promulgates the most vicious Jew-hatred. It continues to be the only government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy. Former U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr has called Iran the “world’s chief trafficker in antisemitism.” Justifying its aggressive foreign policy denying Israel’s right to exist, Iranian leaders spread of antisemitic conspiracy theories while referring to Israel as a “cancerous tumor.”
Even the United States has seen the emergence of antisemitism. This is most true on college campuses where the political left and venomous antisemitic organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine have come to dominate the political debate. There the antisemitism is masked, as it is in many places, as anti-Zionism, but that covering is only a thin veneer.
There is also a violent strand of American Jew-hatred that has its roots in the political fringe-right. Recent attacks at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, have born this out. Simultaneously, those acts of murder disabused Americans of any notion that Jewish houses of worship were safe in the United States.
Unfortunately, studies show declining knowledge about the Holocaust among younger Americans. One survey found that 63% of American millennials and Generation Z did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and over half of those thought the death toll was fewer than 2 million. Another article tells us that two-thirds of millennials do not know what Auschwitz stands for and what took place there. Many cannot place the Holocaust within the framework of World War II. This is a disastrous place for our nation to be.
On this day, we commemorate the millions of innocent Jews who were cruelly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered on an industrial scale. Remembrance must also incorporate a commitment that such evil must “never again” take place. Jews know that this hatred has manifested itself against them in many places over millennia. Whether it be in Queen Esther’s biblical Persia, Judea’s destruction by the Romans, or fifteenth century Spain – this is a recurring evil that knows no parallel human history.
Therefore, it is necessary that we set aside this day each year to remember the Holocaust. We must use this annual occasion to recommit ourselves to protect the Jewish people as fellow human beings. But they must also be defended as a persecuted minority that stands for a set of unique religious and cultural beliefs that make them distinct. Tyrants, like Hitler, have raged that Jews answer to a higher authority and will not yield. On this point, we must stand with the Jews every day of the year.
Chris Gacek, Ph.D., is Coalitions Senior Research Fellow at Family Research Council.
Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.