Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

April 8, 2021
Josh Lipowsky  —  CEP Senior Research Analyst

April 8 is Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed by Jewish communities around the world. It is a day to specifically remember and honor the six million Jews systematically targeted for extermination by the Nazis. There is an old Jewish adage, “whoever saves one life, saves an entire world.” Conversely, “whoever destroys one life destroys an entire world.” Six million worlds were destroyed by the Nazis, and nothing can right that wrong.

But we can honor the memories of those lost and ensure that such horrific crimes do not happen again. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that as we remember the Holocaust, we “remember that evil on a grand scale can and does happen, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop it.” We are now 76 years removed from the end of World War II and the Nazis’ attempt to eliminate the Jewish people. And yet, the ideology of anti-Semitism that allowed the Holocaust to take place remains just as dangerous today.

True, there are no stormtroopers in the streets rounding people up and putting them onto trains bound for death camps, but the attitudes and beliefs that made the Holocaust possible are still with us today.

In 2017, White nationalists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “You will not replace us!” In 2018, Robert Bowers blamed the Jewish refugee organization HIAS for bringing an invasion of foreign immigrants to America to overwhelm the white, Christian population before killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Citing the same core ideology, Brenton Tarrant attacked two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019, killing 51 people. In his manifesto, called The Great Replacement, Tarrant imagined hordes of migrants replacing the dominant white European culture. Though he did not target Jews, his ideology is based on the same philosophy on display in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh.

The global pandemic has created a new—presently non-lethal yet still disturbing—outlet for attack: Zoom bombing. Last year, anti-Semites interrupted online Yom HaShoah commemorations with Nazi imagery and slogans. In January, neo-Nazis crashed an online book launch, shouting horrific things like “Jews in the ovens, the Nazis are back,” and posting pictures of Hitler. In September, neo-Nazis disrupted a pre-Rosh Hashanah Zoom call with Nazi imagery and shouts of sending Jews to the gas chambers.

Israeli researchers recently warned that such online attacks could translate to an increase in physical attacks when coronavirus restrictions are fully lifted. In 2019, more than half of the reported hate crimes in New York targeted Jews. And while there was a recorded decrease in physical anti-Semitic attacks globally in 2020 due to coronavirus movement restrictions, physical attacks against Jews nevertheless increased in both the United States and Germany. Last August in Austria, someone attacked the president of the Graz Jewish community at the synagogue with a baseball bat. This past November, Jewish graves in Michigan were vandalized. In Brooklyn, recognizably Jewish men and women have been attacked in the streets. Just last week, a man in New York attacked an Orthodox Jewish couple and their toddler with a knife.

As we take time to remember the victims of the Nazi horror, we must also consider what led to it and how to prevent a repeat. CEP’s Anti-Semitism resource examines historical anti-Semitism and its manifestation in modern times. Throughout history, Jews have been among the most ostracized representations of The Other in society—those who are different from the majority and thus feared, shunned, or persecuted. Unfortunately, we see many examples today that this kind of hatred—toward Jews as well as other minorities—has not abated, from the streets of New York to China, where more than one million Uighur Muslims are being held in detention centers and subjected to abuse and persecution under the guise of “reeducation” in order to combat terrorism. 

While it is fitting that we remember those six million worlds that were martyred 76 years ago, we should also take time to reflect on our responsibility to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. In their names, let us speak out forcefully against the baseless hatred that led to their deaths, so that “Never Again” becomes not just a slogan, but the mantra that guides our lives.

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