As more and more of the survivors of the Holocaust pass away, there are not enough people giving testimony of the horrendous events of World War II in Nazi Europe and, as a result, very few understand the depths of the inhumanity towards Jews suffered during that period. According to a recent study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (known as the Claims Conference), more than one-fifth of millennials in the US (22 percent) haven’t heard of – or aren’t sure if they heard of – the Holocaust. Additionally, 41 percent believe two million Jews or fewer were killed during that period in history.
The survey found that there are critical gaps in awareness of basic facts, as well as a lack of detailed knowledge, of the Holocaust, giving evidence to the fact that two out of three Americans between 18 and 34 years of age cannot say what Auschwitz was and what it represents.
In a news release of the findings, it stated that 70 percent of surveyed American adults agreed with a statement that said, “Fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust as much as they used to…” That is most unfortunate and something we have to rectify. We owe it to the six million k’doshim that they not be forgotten.
These findings underscore the importance of studying the Shoah in our schools. I’m sorry to say that not only are the secular institutions remiss in this area, but our yeshivos are, as well. My son went to Breuer’s, so Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), which had such a devastating consequence on the German Jewish community, was commemorated. My son’s friends, who attended other schools, had no Kristallnacht observance. They also didn’t commemorate Yom HaShoah because it falls during the month of Nisan. So the subject of the Shoah was barely covered in the curriculum. What the kids knew was from the stories told by members of their families who lived through that hell, but there was no in-depth analysis in Jewish studies. As a result, we have nurtured a generation of ignorant young people, desensitized to the Holocaust and all that transpired in the 1930s and the 1940s.
We cannot permit the canard that many tell me: “The Shoah happened over 70 years ago. Get over it!” My response to them is “Not a chance!” We must continue to have commemorations and lectures on the subject. We must impress upon our young people to come to these events. (Most of the commemorations are attended by people over 70 years of age.) The rallying cry of “Never Again” must be emphasized. The torch must be passed to our next generation to continue remembering what happened in the Shoah, so it should never happen again.
On November 1, 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/60/7 to designate January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was designated on this day to mark the liberation of Auschwitz. On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous concentration camp where 1,000,000 Jews died, was liberated by the Red Army.
The observance focused on the “importance of infusing today’s youth with the lessons of the Holocaust so that future generations may work to prevent hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.”
Since then, on the annual day, the UN urges every member state “to honor the six million Jewish victims and millions of other victims of Nazism and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.”
What is very important is that not only does the day honor the memory of the six million k’doshim, it also rejects any form of Holocaust denial. The resolution encourages member states of the UN to actively preserve the various concentration camps and other sites that the Nazis used during the Final Solution.
We all should be using January 27 as a day of remembering.
In Israel, for example, Israelis stand still for nationwide moments of silence in remembrance of the Jewish victims, as a two-minute siren wails across the country, and the nation pays its respects to those who were systematically murdered. Buses and cars halt on the streets and highways, and Israelis step out of their vehicles and stand with their heads bowed in solemn remembrance.
Tragically, as anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head, we need to become more vigilant. Observing the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 may be a start.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org