We can't stand on the sidelines in the face of anti-Semitism
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Elie Wiesel said, “Anti-Semitism led to Auschwitz. Without anti-Semitism there would have been no Auschwitz." We are now over seven decades since the end of World War II. How much have we learned in that time?

This weekend in Elie Wiesel’s hometown, Sighet, Romania, hundreds of residents and dignitaries from the U.S., Europe and Israel will gather to march in his honor.

It will be to remember and to stress the importance of speaking out, which is a stark contrast of what happened during the Holocaust. In a time when people watched, without protesting, as community members, neighbors, even friends were marched to the local train station and sent to Auschwitz to be exterminated.

 

In April 1944, approximately 14,000 Jews from Sighet and surrounding villages were forced into the local ghetto. In May 1944, the entire Jewish population of Sighet was marched to the train station and deported to Auschwitz.

Residents of Elie Wiesel’s hometown silently watched as people were sent to their death, as most of Sighet’s Jews deported to Auschwitz were sent directly to the gas chambers upon arrival at the concentration camp.

Was such passive participation, such inaction, a form of silent approval? Would a public demonstration have impacted history differently? One man among the survivors, Elie Wiesel, would later spend his entire life teaching us how not to be silent; he would become a Nobel Laureate and the cornerstone of Holocaust remembrance.

And, yet, how many stories do we not know; how many are buried forever? How many additional potential Nobel Laureates were among those murdered? How many mathematicians, scientists, doctors, scholars and more were extinguished? What cures for diseases have gone undiscovered or been postponed; what inventions never came to be?

The killing of six million Jews is not only unfathomable in its own right, it carries a huge ripple effect, through the generations, of what could have been, but now may never be.

Certainly, the past teaches us, and the present reveals, that nothing, including hate, happens instantaneously. If it is repeatedly drummed into you that there is a group inferior to you, it becomes easier to distance yourself and dehumanize someone who is different.

How could so many communities have hated Jews with such an intense and violent loathing that an entire population, from the elderly to infants, including 1.5 million children, were targeted for annihilation?

Elie Wiesel, was victim of such hatred and he was acutely aware of a world infused by massive indifference. Yet, he refused to accept how things were and spent the rest of his life helping to enlighten us to the dangers of standing by in the presence of suffering.

When does it become the responsibility of individuals to speak up in the face of silence? In Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, many made it a point to hide their Jewish population.


They hid them in fishing boats and snuck them to Sweden as the Nazis sought to eliminate the local Jewish community. What makes some neighbors band together for those in clear danger and distress when the most others, whether out of apathy or fear, do nothing?

Preparations for the remembrance march in Sighet, which began one year ago, will take place this weekend. Hopefully, such a commemoration is what Elie Wiesel would have expected. It is a small reflection of an understanding achieved since the Holocaust.

Before the Holocaust, there were over 14,000 Jews living in Sighet; now there are precious few. When voices remain mute, when the sidelines are replete with passive observers, the cost, or certainly the risk, we have learned, is the demise of entire communities. As Wiesel famously wrote, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."

Greg Schneider is the executive vice president at Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). The organization is co-sponsoring the event in Sighet, Romania.


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