If you’re going to New York, go to Auschwitz.
Go see a musical, go see the Statue of Liberty, then go witness the worst.
Take your kids. Tell your friends. Talk about what you see.
The world is forgetting.
There are many people fretting about those who deny the Holocaust ever happened. But the deniers are far outnumbered by people who simply don’t even know what the Holocaust was.
That ignorance is growing.
That’s why The New York Times ran a full-page photo of the railroad tracks leading into Birkenau Jan. 27 to promote the Auschwitz exhibit that opens May 8 in New York City, which just happens to be V-E Day, the day the Nazis surrendered in 1945.
On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, my friends in Poland posted photos of themselves looking somber, holding simple signs with these words: #WeRemember. They can never forget. The Nazis set up the most notorious killing factory in their country at Auschwitz and Birkenau, which were liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.
Too many people don’t even know that.
Last year, Newsweek shared a survey completed by Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference. Newsweek reported “almost half (45 percent) of Americans were unable to name a single concentration camp, and the number was even worse for millennials (49 percent). Two-thirds (66 percent) of millennials were unable to explain what Auschwitz was.”
Newsweek also said that of 31 percent of the Americans surveyed and 41 percent of millennials surveyed, they don’t believe 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. They think the death toll was “at least 2 million lower.”
Also, most Americans, 80 percent, have never visited a Holocaust museum. And yet some 58 percent believe “something like the Holocaust could happen again.”
Americans aren’t the only clueless ones. Israel National News reported more than half of Canadians didn’t know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Nearly half of them couldn’t name a single Nazi concentration camp.
That’s why we need to talk about it, not just on International Remembrance Day.
The Israel Project created a brief video with a photo of Birkenau and these words, “In memory of 6 million men, women and children murdered just because they were Jewish.” Then it listed the death toll country by country, from Austria, where 50,000 were murdered, to Yugoslavia where 60,000 died. It included where the fewest were murdered, 7 in Finland and the most, the 2.9 million who perished in Poland.
At the end, a candle glows with the words burning in orange: “Never again.” It’s the job of all of us to keep that promise.
I urge everyone who goes to Europe to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Not to check it off their bucket list, not as a curiosity to tell their friends, not as a tourist, but as a witness performing a sacred duty. A friend of mine was recently invited to speak in Warsaw at a leadership conference. I urged her to go to Krakow, to see the beauty there, then to go to Auschwitz and Birkenau, to see the ugliness there.
I still can’t forget the room full of human hair, the stack of luggage, the mountain of eye glasses, the tiny baby shoes. Some of those items will be on display in “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust” in New York City at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. The exhibit has 700 artifacts, including some of the barracks, suitcases, shoes, dreidels and bullets. Timed tickets are already on sale at Auschwitz.nyc.
If you’re Jewish, you might think you grew up hearing too much about the Holocaust. Is there really such a thing? No, because you heard it over and over and over again not for you, but to be a witness to others, Gentiles like me who didn’t grow up hearing enough about it.
If you can go to Auschwitz and Birkenau, go. If you can’t, go to New York City and be a witness. Take your children and your children’s children. Tell them, what survivor Primo Levi said: “It happened, therefore it can happen again.”
It happens when hate goes unchecked.
The Holocaust started with hate and ignorance, not with the ovens. It started with the kind of ugliness we saw in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when a long snake of angry white people marched with torches and shouted, “Jews will not replace us.”
That’s what makes the tagline for the Auschwitz exhibit so haunting:
“Not long ago. Not far away.”
No, it wasn’t.
Read Regina Brett online at cjn.org/regina. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans. 2018 Best Columnist, AJPA Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary.