The world is 'remembering to forget' the Holocaust's tough lessons

The world is 'remembering to forget' the Holocaust's tough lessons
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Today marks the 81st anniversary of the date in 1945 when Soviet troops burst into the belly of the beast that was the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, pinnacle of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” that introduced organized, industrialized mass-murder to the so-called civilized world. V-E Day would follow on May 8. But the “Sh’erit ha-Pletah,” the remnant European Jews who somehow survived, had little to celebrate; 6 million of their brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, families and friends were dehumanized, starved to death, or gassed and burned at Auschwitz and other charnel houses that constituted the Holocaust Kingdom.

In 2005, the United Nations voted to designate Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Memorial Day. Every year, many countries, institutions of higher learning, faith leaders and families of Holocaust victims participate in Remembrance Day activities. But in 2021, it is not clear that these gatherings will have any impact in the real world. 

The biblical narrative in the book of Exodus introduces the prototype of the Nazis and other would-be genociders of the nation of Israel: Amalek — a ruthless enemy, with no common border with the Israelites, killed and maimed the weakest among the Jews in a surprise attack. God warns His people, “Zachor; al Tishkach” (“Remember; do not forget.”).


That warning echoes loudly in our time. There are thousands of memorials, wreath-laying ceremonies, pious speeches, moments of silence and political proclamations meant to ensure that, at least for a few minutes, many will “remember.” But, the facts on the ground warn us that we are forgetting how it all began — with unchallenged words and hate. We forget the cultural and sports elites, physicians, lawyers, pundits and businessmen, in Germany and across Europe, and the Americas, who were eager to appease Hitler, to collude with the Nazis, and who remained indifferent to the growing threats and suffering of the Jews.

But it’s not just forgetting the details of the past — perhaps that’s just part of human nature. More ominous are the growing signs that much of the world today is remembering to forget the tough lessons and warnings from the Holocaust. 

So, today as we mark this occasion, we urge all social media platforms not to intervene in democracies’ messy politics while failing to degrade the marketing capabilities of hate groups and terrorists, and while maintaining a stoic silence as China continues its genocidal policies against Muslim minorities. 

On this Jan. 27, just a week after President Biden was sworn into office, we urge his Justice Department to immediately establish a special FBI unit dedicated to monitoring and disrupting violent anti-Semitism here in America. Shocking FBI statistics from 2019 confirmed that 62 percent of all religion-based hate crimes in the U.S. targeted 2 percent of our nation’s population — American Jews, our synagogues and schools. 

And today, we have a special plea to Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.


Throughout her tenure, Merkel has served as a moral compass, not just a political bellwether, for Germany and all of Europe. Over the loud protests of many of her countrymen, she stepped up to absorb hundreds of thousands of Arab and Muslim migrants and refugees who reached Europe’s shores. She traveled to Israel and spoke from the rostrum of the Knesset in Jerusalem to reiterate that Germany’s unshakable support of the Jewish state would not wither as memories of the Nazi-era crimes wane in our collective memory. It was a theme repeated when Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited us at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Yet, such heartfelt words evaporate when discussions turn to Ayatollah Khamenei’s Iran. We would trade all of this year’s Holocaust ceremonies in Berlin for a clear, public denunciation by the chancellor of Germany of Khamenei and his regime’s state policy of Holocaust denial.

Would it be asking too much to expect that the next time Iran’s Supreme Leader uses the words “Final Solution,” aimed at the 6 million-plus Jews living in Israel, that Berlin would call home its ambassador from Tehran in protest, or even cancel a few lucrative economic contracts that help prop up the tyrant and his regime?

Perhaps President Biden could remind U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip Biden says Queen Elizabeth II reminded him of his mother Biden concludes first G-7 as president declaring 'America is back at the table' MORE — leaders of nations that experienced the hate, violence and merciless terror of Nazism firsthand — that standing by in silence again, as a new generation of Iranians parades through the streets of Tehran, chanting “Auschwitz is a lie,”’ is not an option. 

Frankly, we aren’t holding our breath. The flawed nuclear agreement with Iran clearly paves the way for Iran to get nuclear weapons in the near future. Merkel, Macron and other European leaders apparently have “remembered to forget” the very real threat that such weapons will pose to the Jewish state of Israel and her new peace partners in the Gulf and beyond.

Even so, we ask that Europe’s and America’s leaders use this Holocaust Memorial Day to remember past tragedies and forestall future disasters, to honor the dead by instituting policies that will protect the living and secure civilization’s future.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Center’s associate dean and global social action director.