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The tragic history of the Jewish Holocaust must not be forgotten

People stand together during an interfaith Rally Against Anti-Semitism hosted by Greater Miami Jewish Federation at the Holocaust Memorial on June 03, 2021 in Miami Beach, Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A 2020 survey revealed a startling reality — the majority of Millennials and Gen Z-ers don’t know the basic facts of the Jewish Holocaust.

As fewer eyewitnesses are alive and able to give voice to the mass genocide, the survey uncovered that 63% of these young respondents didn’t realize that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. Over a third believed only two million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and nearly half of all respondents couldn’t name a single concentration camp.

And atrocities committed against the Jewish people by the Nazis didn’t just include extermination. Something we’ve also likely failed to teach in our public schools is that billions of dollars worth of art was confiscated as a final act of cruelty against the European Jewish population. Through his henchmen, Hitler stole countless paintings and art exhibits from prominent Jewish households with the ultimate goal of displaying the art at a museum in Austria. Of course, the museum never happened, and the stolen art was subsequently sold, stored, or even lost for decades.

While the stolen art might not seem like a substantial wound in the larger scheme of ethnic and religious genocide, the injury matters just the same. The massive theft remains unjust and we have a duty to make it right.

That is why a monumental effort to collect and return the art to its rightful owners is now underway. While the stolen art wasn’t a priority in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, today defenders of freedom around the world understand that the artwork’s restitution is a pressing matter as most Holocaust survivors have subsequently passed away. This art is now one of the only connections to this sometimes-forgotten part of history. And we must remember it. 

Dr. Wesley Fisher, the executive board member of the Jewish Digital Cultural Recovery Project, is a key player in this work, and he makes it clear: “... important is the 'restitution of history’ and knowledge of the theft in addition to knowledge of the murder,” he explained.

Dr. Fisher’s words remind us that the entire, tragic history of the Jewish Holocaust cannot be forgotten. It’s the only way we can preserve our future freedom.

The oft-quoted lesson, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” still rings true today. A free society hinges on our understanding of the atrocities committed against a significant portion of the world’s population less than 100 years ago.

We must not forget the six million murdered Jews. We must not forget that their homes and works of art were pilfered during the Holocaust. We must ensure our younger generations are properly educated about the evils that were committed in the not-so-distant past. This history must be examined, reviewed, taught, and understood, so that it never occurs again.

Honoring our Jewish brethren means we respect what rightfully belongs to them. And stewarding our freedom means having the faith and courage to fight for the restitution of these stolen goods — seeing them properly restored, as much as possible, to their rightful family owners. This is how we form a future free from prejudice and create a world where all cultures — and their handiwork — are celebrated and revered.

It’s the honorable thing to do.

Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition

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