Protect Our Future. Defend Our Past.
Each victim of the Holocaust had a name. Each victim had a life. Each victim had a family. They woke up each morning, brushed their teeth, had breakfast and went to school or work. They were no different than you and me.
Israel’s Antisemitism Cyber Monitoring System (ACMS) released shocking figures this week showing that antisemitic posts on five different social media platforms, including threats of violence against Jews, Zionists and Israel, were up 1,200 per cent in May 2021....
Times are changing in Austria as the nation’s leaders are forcing the country into a moment of truth and reconciliation. Eighty-three years ago, during what is referred to as the November pogroms, 112 synagogues and prayer houses were destroyed
Survivor Max Eisen has dedicated decades of his life to fulfilling a parting promise made to his parents that he would fight to ensure such a travesty never happens again — not to anyone. Eisen has dedicated his life to educating people about the Holocaust.
Holocaust denial is growing at an accelerated rate. For anyone who hasn’t read through the outrageous beliefs of deniers, it is an eye-opening experience. Whereas once deniers kept their beliefs to themselves, today there is little shame in posting antisemitic views online.
As educators, it is our responsibility to educate with truth in hand, with survivor testimony and with expert analysis. Alternate reality can be entertaining and maybe serve our alter-ego, but let this be a warning: the road from revisionism to denial is very short.
In a survey, 56% of US Millennials and Gen Z respondents were unable to identify Auschwitz-Birkenau and “there was virtually no awareness of concentration camps and ghettos overall,” according to a survey. In some states ignorance level hovered over 67%.
As the world continues to teeter on the brink of ethnic conflict, as race riots and demonstrations persist in America and Europe, and as class warfare is heightened by loss of employment due to COVID-19, white supremacists will attempt to seize on this instability and grow their base.
It’s often said that the Holocaust began on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The world had already turned upside down for German Jews, with increasing laws and regulations against them imposed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
Dear Germany: What took so long? So sorry, but you had 76+ years to prosecute Nazi war criminals. You announced you would be charging a 100-year old Nazi in addition to a 95-year old secretary.
Our handling of the Nazi war crimes files is a national shame. But it’s not ours alone. People are talking about the American Nazi war criminal, Jakiw Palij, who was stripped of his citizenship and deported to Germany for his alleged crimes as a former labour camp guard during the Second World War.
We cannot possibly account for the crime against humanity which was committed by the Germans and those who collaborated and conspired with them. Those who stood by and said and did nothing. Unfortunately, too many neighbours and Nazis have gotten away with murder. But the least we can do is to identify the mass graves...
In April 1944, a five-year-old French Jewish boy named Alain Lazar Weil was packed into a train in Paris and shipped to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in the gas chamber. Similarly, a Jewish Czech girl named Vera Schlesingerova was sent to Theresienstadt and then onward to Auschwitz. She was gassed to death by the Nazis at the age of seven. On April 27, 1944, Alberto Segre, an Italian Jew, was deported from Milan and was murdered in Auschwitz. A 42-year-old Dutch Jewish woman named Mina Leuw was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942.
Each victim of the Holocaust had a name. Each victim had a life. Each victim had a family. They woke up each morning, brushed their teeth, had breakfast and went to school or work. They were no different than you and me.
The Nazis proudly kept meticulous records of the six million Jewish people they murdered. They were shipped by rail on cattle cars throughout Europe. It did not matter if you were Polish, Italian, French, German or Hungarian — your fate as a Jewish person was sealed. There was no mercy for the 1.5 million children who were shot in pits in places like Babi Yar and beaten and gassed in death camps like Sobibor and Majdanek. If you were a mother or a father, you would be stripped naked alongside your children and killed.
Jiri Teller was born in Prague on April 26, 1925. He was just 18 years of age when he was murdered at Auschwitz, after being deported from Theresienstadt on May 18, 1944. Roza Brin, a 20-year-old Jewish-German woman, was murdered in the gas chamber of Auschwitz in 1942. Born in Casablanca in 1917, Maurice Benloulou moved to Paris, where he was eventually deported and murdered in the Holocaust.
The Nazis ascribed numbers to their Jewish victims, tattooing them on their arms like cattle. Hungarian Holocaust survivor Max Eisen was tattooed upon arriving in Auschwitz and being selected for slave-labour duties, along with his father and uncle. His number is "A9892." His father Zoltan Eisen’s number was "A9891" and his uncle’s number was "A9893." By the sequence of these numbers, its evident that Max Eisen was standing in a line between his father and uncle, who were shielding him from the horrors to come. After being worked to exhaustion, Zoltan and Eugene Eisen were murdered in the gas chambers like the other 1.3 million people who passed through the gates of Auschwitz. "Arbeit Macht Frei" (“Work sets you free”), read the sign on the gate of the Auschwitz labour camp, mocking the prisoners as they entered each day after working in the surrounding fields. It was said that the only way any Jewish prisoner could leave Auschwitz was through the chimney, which billowed smoke 24/7.
There is no hell on earth like Auschwitz. It is the biggest cemetery in the world. Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, ashes and bone fragments still spill out of the soil like tears. Its blood-soaked ground cries out in pain. No Jew was immune to the violent antisemitism that took hold in Europe. The Germans influenced and motivated neighbours to turn against each other in killing fields throughout the continent.
In the book "Holocaust by Bullets," Father Patrick Desbois meticulously documents the travesty and horrors of how ordinary people, especially in rural areas of eastern Europe, helped murder their Jewish neighbours by digging mass graves by the local ravine and shooting them. No country would take in Jewish refugees fleeing the gas chambers. Among the worst human-rights offender was Canada, whose official stated policy was “none is too many.” People wanted to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust in the decades that followed.
The names of its Jewish victims were rarely mentioned until 1961, when Israel tried and executed Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the deportation of European Jews. The trial may have awoken a new generation of advocates to speak out and say, “Never again.” But as we face a mounting surge of antisemitism around the world, today we must look in the mirror and ask: have we defeated this primal evil from the face of this earth once and for all? Apparently the Holocaust was not enough to satiate humanity’s thirst for blood. We see the atrocities committed in Ukraine following the gassing of children in Syria and the horrific genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia, and we ask ourselves: when will humanity have enough bloodshed?
We hold out hope for "never again," but I am worried for the next generation if we fail to confront war and tyranny. The shock of the Holocaust is wearing off and humanity is once again forgetting its horrific lessons. "Never again" is becoming "ever again," as the seeds of hate and intolerance are germinating once more. We cannot forget the Holocaust nor its victims, because, as the saying goes, those who forget the past are destined to repeat it.
National Post Excerpted from a speech given by Avi Benlolo at a Holocaust memorial held at the Israeli Consulate in Toronto on April 28.
Few would argue with the notion that humanity is more educated today than ever before. Despite our advancements in science, medicine, business, academia and the professions however, study after study has pointed to a dumbing down of student knowledge about the Holocaust. As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 80th anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference in Berlin, which hatched the so-called "Final Solution," making genocide official Nazi policy, yet another study released this week found that nearly a third of North American students think the Holocaust was exaggerated or fabricated.
Given the fact that a Liberation75 study found that 40 per cent of students reported learning about the Holocaust through social media, this revelation demonstrates that our educational system is failing in first and foremost, educating students about a major historical event and second, teaching students how to think critically about social media. In fact, I would assert that every single subject taught at school should include critical analysis of information derived from social media platforms.
Case in point, Israel’s Antisemitism Cyber Monitoring System (ACMS) released shocking figures this week showing that antisemitic posts on five different social media platforms, including threats of violence against Jews, Zionists and Israel, were up 1,200 per cent in May 2021 compared with May 2020. ACMS found a 31.3 per cent year-over-year increase in antisemitic posts on Twitter alone in May 2021. It's not surprising therefore that study after study is finding that social media in particular is dumbing down student knowledge about the Holocaust, while spreading false narratives.
What we are seeing in schools is equally disconcerting. This week, it was revealed that the Ontario College of Teachers revoked the teaching licence of a Timmins teacher who pleaded no-contest to promoting antisemitism, Holocaust denial and 9/11 conspiracy theories in the classroom. Why then should we surprised then when we hear about students at another Ontario school who paraded across a field shouting “Heil Hitler." When booksellers are found selling conspiracy-laden books like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” or similar films and board games, why are we shocked when the words, “Hitler Was Right” are scrawled on a major highway overpass?
These growing social trends point to a massive failure of the traditional bedrock institutions that once held together our social fabric. Even while the United Nations has now twice adopted resolutions condemning Holocaust denial, and despite the fact that most Western governments are adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism, and despite the growth of international ceremonies marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day annually on Jan. 27 to mark the liberation of Auschwitz, the significance of these activities is clearly not penetrating society.
In order to move the needle on Holocaust education, The Abraham Global Peace Initiative is pushing forward a new values-based framework. While educating students about the Holocaust or any other issue for that matter, the focus must be on building moral and ethical values that allow for better personal choices. We need to focus on building good character in addition to better informed, factually based knowledge.
As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day each year, we can turn these negatives into positives by teaching students first, to honour their own nations — especially if they fought the Nazis to liberate Europe. The fight against Nazism is not just for the Jewish community. Canadian, American and British soldiers fought and died to preserve our freedom. Second, we must teach students to find the truth and not abandon facts. The Holocaust happened because the Nazis abandoned truth and replaced it with propaganda. We must teach students to be critical thinkers, especially as social media spreads false information. Thirdly, if we are going to press upon the next generation the importance of learning from humanity’s past mistakes, we need to inspire and empower them to do good. We can do this by promoting positive role models and showing them that they can change the world for the better.
Condemnations are no longer enough. Where is our national action plan? All of these incidents and more point to a need for a reformed Criminal Code that takes social media platforms, retailers and booksellers to task for selling material that propagates hate. To truly and meaningfully mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we must confront these crucial issues. It is vital for all of humanity to rally behind the lessons of the Holocaust so that we can defend our future as one.
National Post January 28, 2022
Avi Abraham Benlolo is the Founder and Chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative.
VIENNA — Hundreds of thousands of Austrian Nazis went on with their lives following the Second World War and the Holocaust. Some estimates range between 800,000 and 950,000 Austrians actively engaged in Hitler’s war against the Jews of Europe and were part of the National Socialist Party. Many resumed ordinary lives and careers, melting back into society after the genocide. They raised families, enjoyed life and died in dignity. Unlike Jewish victims of the Holocaust, their families have a graveside to visit and pay their “respects.”
But what of the children and grandchildren of the six million Jewish children, women and men murdered in the Shoah? Where do they say Kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead). Do they not deserve the same rights, at the very least as the descendants of Nazis? These were the sentiments spoken by Mr. Kurt Yakov Tutter at a reception in his honour at the Austrian Chancellory this week. In a moving tribute for his campaign to erect the Shoah Wall of Names in Vienna, he was awarded the Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik, similar to the Légion d’Honneur in France.
Times are changing in Austria as the nation’s leaders are forcing the country into a moment of truth and reconciliation. Eighty-three years ago, during what is referred to as the November pogroms (also known as Kristallnacht), 112 synagogues and prayer houses were destroyed, while 8,000 people were arrested and 5,000 deported to Dachau concentration camp. Before the Holocaust, 191,481 Jews lived in Austria while no more than 5,000 were left in the country at its conclusion. One eye-witness account from November 10th, 1938 summarized the basic Austrian indifference to Kristallnacht: “In general, there is otherwise the usual Viennese calm.”
For decades Austrians avoided facing the historical truth of their own complicity in the Holocaust. Martin Engelberg, the only Austrian Jewish parliamentarian, told me that in his childhood, Austria’s history stopped in 1918. But today, Austrians are not only being taught about the Holocaust, they have now inaugurated a monument for the nation to recognize and name the 64,400 Austrian Jews who were murdered as a result of the nation’s warm embrace of Nazi Germany — referred to as the Anschluss.
At the Inauguration of the Wall of Names held on November 9 — the eve of Kristallnacht, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said, “we have to protect Jewish life. Our responsibility does not end at Austria’s border. We Austrians have a special responsibility to Israel. When Jews all over the world can live in freedom, only then does the meaning of never again become realized.” Indeed, under the previous leadership of Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, Austria began a U-turn toward Israel — even raising the Israeli flag over the Chancellery during the Hamas aggression against Israel this past May. Austria has been leading the way at the European Union and mostly voting favourably for Israel at the United Nations.
Canada’s Honourary Consul General of Austria, Marc Bissell expressed that “Austria has taken many steps forward in recent years. The Shoah Wall of Names is a massive step forward. I feel it’s a recognition for both of my great-grandmothers whose names will be on it, that they are not forgotten and through this process, we have remembered them and that’s very special to me and my family.”
In my meeting with Karoline Edtstadler, the Federal Minister for the EU and Constitution at the Federal Chancellery and one of the architects of Austria’s fight against anti-Semitism, she expressed that the former generation of Austrians acted out of bad conscience. “Now we have the feeling that we want to have a flourishing Jewish life for the future of Austria. Monuments like this give meaning to history and how many people were actually murdered. We cannot have a future without reflecting on the past”. Indeed, Edtstadler has been at the forefront of liaising with the Jewish community here in Vienna and implementing a national strategy against anti-Semitism — one of three European nations to do so.
President of the Jewish Community of Vienna Oskar Deutsch lamented that while he is proud to see progress in Austria and a vibrant community life that is flourishing, anti-Semitism has increased markedly. Over the last six months, the community has registered nearly six hundred incidents of anti-Semitism. More significantly, the central community organization which he leads is posting security guards at all schools, synagogues and community institutions to ensure community members feel safe and secure living a Jewish life. Recently, the government allocated some four million Euros to assist the community with security and programs to preserve Jewish life in Austria. It’s a start.
On the heels of the unveiling of the Shoah Wall of Names, I was pleased to also attend and participate in the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism by Austria’s National Football Association, its National Football League and by FK Austria Wien, Vienna’s soccer team. Given the incidences of anti-Semitism at soccer games throughout Europe, the adoption and integration of the fight against anti-Semitism is critical and necessary now more than ever.
For far too long European Jewish community presidents were afraid. They wondered if there was a future for Jewish people in Europe. While the question is still on the table, European nations are starting to aggressively confront their past. However, they must do more in terms of integrating the combating of anti-Semitism into their national laws and frameworks, including prosecuting hate crimes and penalizing social media companies when anti-Semitism is disseminated on their platforms.
In Vienna, Mr. Tutter now has a place to say Kaddish and light a memorial candle for his parents as do many Austrian Jewish descendants who lost family and relatives in the Shoah. Austria may have turned a corner as it faces down its own complicity in the crimes committed against its own citizens. A new generation of Austrian leaders are willing and able to confront their nation’s past. They realize that, as the saying goes, those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it. A monument is never enough. Continued education, advocacy and social action is necessary now more than ever to defend the past and protect the future.
Avi Abraham Benlolo is the Founder and Chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative
National Post November 12, 2021
As anti-Semitism spirals out of control here at home and around the world, Holocaust survivors have a renewed sense of anxiety about the world around us.
Many have spent the last 76 years reliving the trauma inflicted upon them at notorious death camps like Auschwitz. Many have lived with constant nightmares, along with loneliness and grief over the loss of parents, siblings and relatives. Nevertheless, they went on to rebuild their lives, create new families and, most incredibly, become humanity’s moral compass.
Survivor Max Eisen has dedicated decades of his life to fulfilling a parting promise made to their parents that he would fight to ensure such a travesty never happens again — not to anyone. Eisen has dedicated his life to educating people about the Holocaust and advocating against hate and intolerance.
This week, I visited with him on the first-annual Holocaust Survivor Day. While thanking him for his years of service to humanity, our conversation inevitably led to his deepening concern that humanity is forgetting the lessons of the Holocaust, and that in many ways, history is repeating itself.
The same canards are replaying once more, each time hidden behind a veil. This time it's Israel. Last time it was the economy. And before that, it was treason and disease. The excuses for anti-Semitism are laughable and surreal beyond measure or comprehension, yet the act itself has brought forth violence beyond measure throughout the centuries.
All anti-Semitism has included boycotts of the Jews. All anti-Semitism has called Jews “occupiers,” “settlers” and “colonialists” — an attempt to marginalize and isolate Jewish populations around the world. And all anti-Semitism has included grandiose mythologies — from poisoning wells, to making matzah from Christian blood, to controlling the world’s media and banking system.
Adding onto these libels are today's ludicrous accusations of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” It makes no difference that Israel’s government includes an Islamic party or that the Muslim community is deeply engaged and intertwined in Israeli society.
So why then should we be shocked, or even dismayed, when this week, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) passed an outrageous resolution charging Israel with “ethnic cleansing” and supporting the “ban on goods produced and exported from the settlements” (a.k.a., boycotting Jewish businesses)? The language of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel comes out of the centuries-old anti-Semitic playbook.
And when Jews attempt to defend themselves against those who wish them harm, the world explodes in anger. That’s why the CLC and some political leaders want to stop the flow of military defence equipment to Israel. How dare Jews defend themselves? Who do they think they are? If they act in self-defence, even in response to a terrorist organization like Hamas … well, that’s just overplaying their cards.
“For me, to see this kind of poison, it brings back horrors,” said Eisen. “I know how deadly these words are. And I see these words now in Canada, in newspapers and online. It’s the lies that become the truth … people bought it and they got on board and this is exactly what happened in Europe pre-World War II.…
"So I am speaking for myself and perhaps other survivors, I’m in my 90s … we should not be forgotten because we have a message to deliver: knowing today what is happening and doing nothing, that is a million times worse.”
Unlike most of us today, Eisen’s generation has stared evil in the eyes. They have experienced the pain of war and of loss. Sadly, renewed silence over anti-Semitism points to a generational shift that is embracing old canards that endanger the very safety and security of the world. As we celebrate and thank our Holocaust survivors around the world for being our moral compass, we must continue their work with renewed and boundless energy.
Elie Wiesel advocated for always taking sides. He warned that neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. That silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The lessons imparted upon us by Holocaust survivors require action now — before its too late.
Holocaust denial is growing at an accelerated rate. For anyone who hasn’t read through the outrageous beliefs of deniers, it is an eye-opening experience. Whereas once deniers kept their beliefs to themselves, today there is little shame in posting antisemitic views online. In fact, it is now almost commonplace for Jewish leaders to receive absurd antisemitic messages asking if we are still promoting the “Holahoax” or gaining “sympathy for Jews” by teaching about the Holocaust.
A big milestone in the fight against Holocaust denial was finally reached in 2020 when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to ban it. He explained, “With rising antisemitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” He added, “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”
We are glad to see Zuckerberg has finally listened to what has been said for many years, which is that there is a direct link between antisemitism and violence. How could there not be given the spate of violent antisemitic attacks around the world? The Holocaust itself first began with a process of dehumanization of the Jewish population, and was easily followed up with mass murder.
Holocaust denial is essentially based on four absurd principles: First, conspiracy theorist antisemites argue that the Holocaust was faked by the victors of World War II to weave their own story for their own agenda. Second, Holocaust deniers argue simply that the Holocaust did not happen; it was not a genocide. At worst, they say, it was a series of labor camps. Third, deniers argue that the Holocaust was exaggerated and the evidence proves a much smaller number of people were murdered. Finally, and most disturbingly, Holocaust deniers say that Jews brought the genocide upon themselves and therefore deserved it.
It is one thing to receive antisemitic messages if you are operating in the Jewish world. Its another if you are a young Instagram influencer with some 50,000 followers and trying to genuinely educate them. Recently, one influencer who posts under the name, “the savvy truth” was forced to shut down her comments section because of an onslaught of Holocaust denying antisemitism posted by some followers.
She posted Holocaust-related pictures as evidence of the genocide, alongside the following text: “Jews, Gypsies, [LGBTQ], political enemies, mentally ill … and anyone deemed inferior to the Aryan race were rounded up, stuffed into trains and were sent to concentration camps. When arriving at these death camps, you were either gassed right away and killed, sent to work hard labor for the rest of your life, forced to walk death marches, or sent to be used as test subjects for eugenics.”
In reply, she received many sympathetic comments, including ones from grandchildren of survivors. But the disparaging comments ultimately led her to disable the comments section “to respect the victims from being disrespected by you idiots.” She asked, “How can you say that the #holocaust was fake? How can you tell Holocaust victims that their horrendous torture didn’t happen?”
Holocaust denial may be on the fringes of society at the moment, but Facebook has identified it as a serious problem. In fact, 11% of US Millennials and Gen Zs believe that Jews are responsible for the Holocaust according to a survey conducted by the Claims Conference. The problem is that while the survey found that Holocaust ignorance is quite high — with some 63% not knowing that six million Jews were murdered — the more troubling part is that some 49% have seen what is now called Holocaust distortion.
That “distortion” is being disseminated online in chat rooms and in response to Holocaust postings like the one mentioned above. Whereas in the past, fringe neo-Nazis reached only a handful of people through face-to-face recruitment and flyers, the Internet can reach billions of people, picking up those who are susceptible to conspiracy theories and hatred for Jews and minority groups.
These outrageous sentiments are becoming more perceptible online and on the street. Holocaust deniers contradict themselves by promoting Nazi ideology. After all, if there was no Holocaust, could there have been a Nazi ideology in the first place? We can visibly see this contradiction on a daily basis when swastikas are graffitied on synagogues, Jewish businesses, and on streets, as they were in Paris this past weekend. We also see it through state-sponsored antisemitism, as in the case of Iran — a hostile nation that is coincidentally launching its fifth annual Holocaust cartoon contest.
Jewish people face denial of their history and existence every day. There are those who attempt to deny the historical fact that Israel is not their homeland. They try and explain away archeology that shows we are indigenous to that land. And for more than 2,000 years, many have attempted to deny their faith by trying to convert them through religious inquisitions. And now, once again, deniers are trying to rewrite history by erasing the memory of the six million.
We cannot let them continue spreading their falsehoods. Now more than ever, we must double our energy to educate and advocate about the Holocaust — particularly in Europe and America. If not now, when?
In an age of Jojo Rabbit and romanticized and cartoonish Holocaust-themed movies and television series, the line between fact and fiction is becoming blurred. From The Man in the High Castle to Inglorious Bastards, to Hunters now playing on Amazon Prime, we are confronted with alternate possibilities mixed with reality.
It’s not only in film. Numerous Holocaust-related novels are published and sold each year – including the latest best seller The Tattooist of Auschwitz. The Guardian says that the Auschwitz Memorial disputes the love story (the tattooist fell in love with a girl he was tattooing), claiming “the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements.” The publisher maintains “every reasonable attempt to verify the fact against available documentation has been made.”
Alternate realities presented in mass culture threaten to diminish the Holocaust. Already we are seeing signs of this cultural shift. If it is acceptable to reinterpret the story of the Holocaust in differing modes of entertainment production, can we be surprised by its perversion last week at the Campo de Criptana festival in Spain?
That city’s annual parade featured dancing Nazis with guns, scantily clad women dressed in concentration camp uniforms and waving Israeli flags, a float being driven by a Nazi on a motorcycle, crematoria motif and worse, along the parade route Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been” blasted for the Nazi actors and the crowds lining the street to dance to.
The organizers say that the parade was actually meant to memorialize the Holocaust! In an age of warped satirical cartoonish mass cultural entertainment – for this town and its organizers, in their mind, this perversion of the Holocaust was perfectly reasonable. Consider the months and months of preparation of dance routines, costume design and float construction. Hundreds of people were involved in creating this Holocaust “entertainment” piece. Did anyone think it would be construed as antisemitic? It was.
The same satire is derived from pure antisemitism found at the Aalst Carnival in Belgium. Over the last two years, stereotypical depictions of Jewish people have been exhibited in the parade. This year, a group walked around the parade dressed up like insects with fur hats worn by ultra-Orthodox men. These depictions are helped by the seeming mass acceptance of Holocaust revisionism coupled with a growth of antisemitism.
The Shoah is very personal and belongs to its victims, its survivors and their children. Preserving its historical truth and the memory of its six million Jewish victims and millions of non-Jewish victims is paramount now more than ever – especially in an age of alternative truths. As educators, it is our responsibility to educate with truth in hand, with survivor testimony and with expert analysis. Alternate reality can be entertaining and maybe serve our alter-ego, but let this be a warning: the road from revisionism to denial is very short.
"What took so long? So sorry but you had 76+ years to prosecute Nazi war criminals. This week you announced you would be charging a 100-year old Nazi in addition to a 95-year old secretary".
What took so long? So sorry, but you had 76+ years to prosecute Nazi war criminals. This week you announced you would be charging a 100-year old Nazi in addition to a 95-year old secretary.
Your prosecutors charged the 100-year-old man with 3,518 counts of being an accessory to murder at Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1942 to 1945. In the other case, a 95-year old woman was also charged with accessory to murder for serving as the secretary of the SS commandant of the Stutthof concentration camp.
Yes. We all agree and expect they should be charged. That there is no statute of limitation to charging war criminals. And no one should ever get away with murder no matter their age - even at 100.
But dear Germany, it was not until 2011 that a new legal precedent was set in connection with Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk's conviction as accessory to some 28,000 murders at Sobibor. He died shortly after receiving sentence. Then, in 2015, you convicted 94-year-old Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening ('The Accountant of Auschwitz'). He also died before his sentence could be carried out because of a series of appeals.
It's now common knowledge and widely reported that fewer than 50 of the estimated 6,500 Auschwitz guards who served there over the years were ever convicted. And those are just the guards. What about the commanders, soldiers, cooks, railway engineers, crematoria construction workers, architects, logistics officials, administrative staff, maintenance personnel and daytime workers from surrounding villages? Who ordered the Zyklon-B canisters?
Multiply this idea by over 40,000 concentration and labour camps plus ghettos spread across Europe and you start getting the picture of just how many people got away with murder.The number of "participants" could be well into the hundreds of thousands and possibly, 500,000 or more.
We know that people had a choice. They did not have to participate in the killing machine. Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who worked in the Warsaw Ghetto and saved 2,500 children recognized this basic fact herself. She said: "Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal".
I have visited the camps probably more than anyone should. I have walked nearly every inch of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, and Ravensbruck. I have seen the pain and torment in the eyes of survivors. To understand the magnitude of what took place in those camps between 1939 and 1945, we must peel back the layers to understand why mostly ordinary people directly or as accessories participated in murder.
So, pardon me Germany, but why had possibly hundreds of thousands of people who were accessory to murder not been brought to stand trial? Why did you wait this long for a what appears to be a final attempt at reckoning of justice? Unlike these perpetrators, the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of others did not have a chance to marry, raise families, and live to old age - like these Nazi war criminals whom you are now charging.
Should we be satisfied? We must ask these critical questions - not to relive this tragic past, but to ensure that it never ever happens again. And how can we be sure, dear Germany? After all, just yesterday you reported that antisemitism is becoming more socially acceptable again. You said that 2,275 antisemitic crimes have been registered up to January 2021. Some 55 of those acts were violent.
One wonders, therefore, if your population has really reconciled with its Nazi past? Had more Germans taken an interest in prosecuting more war criminals, could that have provided greater education and alleviated the growing antisemitic incidents? We do not know.
Had Germany moved faster and with greater conviction to prosecute Nazi war criminals, it might have had an impact on our own prosecutions in Canada. We began mobilizing in the 1980s to investigate war criminals. The Deschene Commission found 774 possible war criminals in the country. The list was whittled down to 20 strong possibilities. But legal stalemate after stalemate --including this week against a 96-year old accused war criminal - has seen very little justice served.
Everything that happens in one place has impact on another. This week's ruling in Poland against two academics who dared assert that there were some Polish citizens who may have been complicit in the Holocaust sent shockwaves around the world. It presents a chill to academic freedom and free speech itself. Holocaust research and action against its perpetrators must be central to ensuring nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.
Prosecuting war criminals is essential, especially in this climate of rising antisemitism. This week was especially horrible as we bore witness to synagogues being vandalized and desecrated, a Jewish frat house spray-painted with swastikas and even eggs thrown at an Israeli flag hung from the balcony of a student dormitory. Worse, a TikTok video was circulating of an Orthodox man being chased by the very perpetrators who video-taped the incident.
Germany, you have made some efforts to combat antisemitism by appointing Felix Klein as a special commissioner in this regard. Also, you have been positive with respect to Israel. In particular, you correctly stood up for Israel's sovereignty against the International Criminal Court ruling this week. We keep this mind and acknowledge all positive steps you have undertaken.
At the same time, we need to ask you why have so many Nazis gotten away with murder?
It may have taken place 14,000 kilometres away, but the recent trial of a killer in New Zealand highlights the threat that white supremacist neo-Nazi groups pose to open societies. The killer entered a mosque and shot 51 people in cold blood and injured 40 others — all because of a racist ideology.
Rooted in Nazism, that ideology is based on Hitler’s false notion of racial superiority. At the top were the Germans, or “Aryans” — people with white skin, fair hair and light eyes who were supposedly physically stronger than all others. Based on theories of genetics, evolution and the notion of racial impurity, the Nazis classified races, placing Jews at the bottom of their made-up hierarchy.
It was a calculated strategy designed to delegitimize, marginalize and dehumanize Jews, along with groups like the Roma and even people with disabilities. Jews, for instance, were described and portrayed in Nazi imagery as rats and vermin. Physical measurements such as the size of their skulls, their noses and their height were used in propaganda materials to show that they had evolutionary deficiencies, in order to ready the German population for the eventual annihilation of the Jews.
Hitler and the Nazis may be gone, but their ideology survives and, in some cases, thrives. The New Zealand shooter produced a manifesto alluding to “white genocide” conspiracy theories. His manifesto allegedly contained anti-immigrant sentiments and concern over non-European immigrants invading the country — a common perception among white supremacists and nationalists.
With all this in mind, Canadians have much to be concerned about. In fact, a report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank based in the United Kingdom, identified significant white supremacist activity in Canada. Its report “identified 6,660 right-wing extremist channels, pages, groups and accounts across seven media platforms … the reach of these channels, pages, groups and accounts was significant, and collectively they reached over 11 million users across these platforms.”
This is hardly surprising. Part of the problem is our lax laws pertaining to online hate, and a lack of any sort of regulatory body to address the issue. It’s no wonder that hateful videos have recently shown up online calling Jews parasites and arguing for them to be removed from the country. And it took a number of years for the courts to take down an anti-Semitic and misogynistic newspaper that was circulated both online and in print.
The North American white supremacist movement became even more emboldened after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Those who took part in it were mainly members of the so-called alt-right movement and comprised many streams, including white nationalists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis. Marchers chanted racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the now infamous slogan, “The Jews will not replace us” — a conspiracy theory, which suggests that Jews want to take over the world.
We have all been affected by mass shootings connected to racism and intolerance. In Quebec City, six people were brutally murdered and another 19 injured in an attack on a Muslim cultural centre in 2017. The following year, a white supremacist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers and wounding six others.
The New Zealand mosque shooter may have been sentenced to life without parole, but the ideology that drove him to this rampage, like all hateful ideologies, survives and continues to infect generation after generation of disenfranchised people.
As the world continues to teeter on the brink of ethnic conflict, as race riots and demonstrations persist in America and Europe, and as class warfare is heightened by loss of employment due to COVID-19, white supremacists will attempt to seize on this instability and grow their base. We need to be far more concerned about this threat, and far bolder in addressing it. The time is now.
It’s often said that the Holocaust began on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The world had already turned upside down for German Jews, with increasing laws and regulations against them imposed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party. The hate and incitement directed against the Jewish community came to a head on the evening of Nov. 9, 1938 — 82 years ago.
In a two-day spree, Nazi storm troopers, Hitler Youth and ordinary German citizens participated in the destruction of some 267 synagogues and the plundering of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, schools and community centres. About 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps — what would be the start of many mass deportations.
Approximately 91 Jews were murdered and hundreds injured over the span of 24 hours, although some argue the numbers were much higher. On Nov. 11, 1938, the Times of London reported that, “No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”
The famous quote that would foreshadow future events in Germany — “Wherever they burn books, in the end (they) will also burn human beings” — was written by Heinrich Heine in 1827. An assimilated German Jew, Heine converted to Protestantism in order to be published and accepted by the German intelligentsia. Despite his wishful thinking, copies of his books would be burned in the 1933 Nazi book burnings of Jewish intellectual works.
Book burnings, which Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said was proof that “the era of extreme Jewish intellectualism (is) now at an end,” would transform hateful rhetoric into consecutive phases of violence: Kristallnacht, ghettoization and genocide.
By 1938, Germany was on the road to self-disgrace. It wasn’t enough for the national socialist party to make its Jewish citizens a pariah of the state through marginalization, isolation, ridicule, shame and street violence. The worst part of it all was that no one spoke up. No one spoke out. Ordinary people participated in silence in this dehumanizing process that would lead to the greatest shame humanity has ever known.
We stand before the Almighty on this day of broken glass and cry out over the horrific behaviour on that night and the subsequent nights that led to the murder of six million Jewish children, women and men. Like the shattered glass of that night and the destroyed dreams of countless victims, we feel broken. We stand before you, therefore, as a Muslim and a Jew who have come together in brotherhood to renounce terror and hate.
Our mutual obsession is to ensure that nothing like the Shoah ever happens again — to anyone.
From these lessons, we examine our relationship with each other and with the world today. Five years ago, the world witnessed the Islamic State conquer strategic parts of the Middle East and expand its caliphate at an unprecedented speed. Its adherents pillaged, raped and murdered anyone they disliked, including the Yazidis, and changed the face of the region. We have seen the horrible gassing of civilians in Syria and the slaughter of innocents in France.
During the last decade, and amidst this chaos, which contributed to the existing conflicts in the region, groups of interfaith activists and prominent individuals were preaching about a peaceful future and a brighter tomorrow. For many people, these events were nothing more than entertainment and an opportunity to socialize. Little did we know that peace was right around the corner. It will soon become a lived reality.
Today, it is safe to say that the Abraham Accords are only the beginning. The warm peace agreements and positive developments in the Middle East are bringing the children of Abraham together after a long period of unnecessary conflict. What makes this peace unique is that it is not just establishing peace on a political and diplomatic level, it is establishing it on a human level, as well.
Who would’ve imagined that Muslim-majority countries would one day back the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, and then be followed by the largest council of Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics? Or that the Albanian parliament would endorse the definition, making it the first Muslim-majority country to formally adopt it?
This groundbreaking peace movement throughout the Middle East is calling for an end to anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. For far too long, anti-Semitism has played a leading role in this region, much of it emanating from Nazi ideology — Hitler’s Mein Kampf is still regularly found in local shops and anti-Semitic materials are often sold at book fairs. That’s why we are proud that the Global Imams Council, which represents some1,000 imams, has formally adopted the IHRA definition.
The definition is crucial because it provides contemporary examples of anti-Semitism in public life. In order to truly achieve peace, we must eliminate the sources of extremism and terrorism. In recent years, attacks on Jewish synagogues and individuals have been formally classified as terrorist attacks that stem from hatred towards Jews — in other words, they were anti-Semitic attacks.
(This article was originally written by Avi Benlolo and Imam Mohammed Tawhidi)
As the memory of the Holocaust fades — and after the world recently commemorated the 76th anniversary of the end of World War II — there is growing concern among Holocaust survivors about who will remember them. One survivor recently asked: “Who will remember us when we are gone?”
Now, a national survey on the Holocaust knowledge of American Millennials and Gen Z reveals shocking results. The survey, conducted for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), says it is the first ever 50-state survey of its kind. In all, it found that 63% of all national respondents do not know that six million Jews were murdered.
Just as surprising, 36% thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed during the Holocaust. Even though there were 40,000 camps and ghettos in Europe, it is astounding to learn that 48% of national survey respondents could not name a single one.
Millennials are generally considered those born between 1980 and 2000 — and have born witness to many social events, including having prolific access to Holocaust survivors and more opportunities to learn about this unparalleled genocide. For Generation Z — generally born after 1996 — this group is supposedly the most educated and knowledgeable in history, given their superb access to digital information.
Most concerning, given the iconic standing of the most notorious death camp in human history, 56% of US Millennials and Gen Z respondents were unable to identify Auschwitz-Birkenau and “there was virtually no awareness of concentration camps and ghettos overall,” according to the survey. In some states like Arkansas, Delaware, and Arizona, the ignorance level hovered over 67%.
Sadly, the survey advises that some 11% of US Millennials and Gen Z respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust. In New York, a state that contains a city with the most number of Jews who reside there, the survey reveals that 19% of respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust.
Even while some 59% of respondents indicate they believe something like the Holocaust could happen, perhaps the way we are teaching the Holocaust needs to be re-evaluated. In my experience, we need studies conducted on effective methodologies that teach about the Holocaust — especially as Holocaust survivors are unfortunately passing away.
The rise of digital media has also planted conspiracy theories and false information about the Holocaust. The fomentation of antisemitism and Holocaust denial on social media has created false narratives and ideologies concerning the Holocaust. In fact, many Holocaust deniers plant information that is misleading — and this impacts the knowledge level of new generations.
It is no coincidence that the survey found that 49% of US Millennials and Gen Z have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts on social media or elsewhere. Similarly, 50% indicated that they had seen Nazi symbols on their social media platforms. For this reason, as I have written elsewhere, social networking platforms like TikTok and Facebook are ramping up their hate speech policies.
Still, there is little comfort in this survey’s results. Some would argue more education is needed. The question is — how can we make Holocaust education more effective for millions of students to digest and understand? Our traditional means may no longer be relevant, and new concepts and platforms need to be developed.
People are talking about the American Nazi war criminal, Jakiw Palij, who was stripped of his citizenship and deported to Germany for his alleged crimes as a former labour camp guard during the Second World War.
Canadian media is widely reporting on this “last” Nazi war criminal in America. But how has Canada dealt with “our” Nazi war criminals who snuck into this country under false pretense to escape justice for their horrific crimes? Many came here and lived mundane and ordinary lives — raising families and going to work daily. Their past remained hidden for decades.
In fact, no one really knows how many Nazi war criminals entered this country. We do know that a special commission enacted by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1985 to investigate claims about Nazi war criminals residing in this country found around 774 possible war criminals in this country. An addendum listed 38 names and provided an additional list of 71 German scientists and technicians.
The Deschenes Commission headed by Judge Jules Deschenes subsequently whittled down the list to 20 strong possibilities and referred them to government with detailed recommendations on how to proceed.
Of the 20 possibilities, Canada obtained around 10 denaturalizations — a strategy taken from the Americans to deport war criminals who falsified their involvement in war crimes to get into the country. According to reports, Canada failed to deport any. Two left on their own and seven of the remaining eight had natural deaths while remaining in this country.
Of these, it appears that as recently as this past May, one defendant remains with an open case — Helmut Oberlander. He is accused of serving in a Nazi death squad that murdered Jewish and non-Jewish civilians.
Oberlander says he was a low-level interpreter, but the government has tried to revoke his citizenship four times. He has denied lying to unlawfully enter Canada or killing anyone, and reportedly no evidence has been presented to a court that he personally participated in war crimes.
However, given recent new application of prosecution policy in Germany to try Nazi war criminals as “accessory to murder,” alleged war criminals who claim they were just following orders or were not part of the killing would likely face conviction if deported to Germany.
It is all too little too late. But there should never be age limitation for murderers and their accomplices.
The last published report from Canada’s Program on Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes ended in 2015. The report further states that “the majority of cases related to the Second World War have been concluded.”
Our handling of the Nazi war crimes files is a national shame. But it’s not ours alone. Many other countries, including America, will one day reconcile themselves to how we allowed so many to get away with heinous crimes.
Insufficient research has been conducted about the mass crimes committed in small and large towns throughout Eastern Europe by the Germans and their accomplices. Untold numbers of towns and villages recruited civilians to facilitate the murder of Jewish neighbours in forests and fields nearby.
In fact, Father Patrick Desbois has documented well over 2,000 instances through many years of investigative work, including interviews of elderly townspeople who witnessed and sometimes participated in the atrocities.
In his new book titled “In Broad Daylight”, Desbois documented how gentiles turned on their Jewish neighbours. He carefully documented the process in which Nazis gave the order to the local police chief who then recruited dozens of men to assist. The process was exact and similar in all cases whereby Jews were isolated into raw ghettos usually fenced into an area for a period of time while their gentile neighbours dug carefully selected pits and helped in their transport for the final killing. It’s hard to imagine that little children, the elderly and frail, women and men were brought together as families, made to strip of their clothes (so the Nazis could recycle them) and lined up in pits and shot pointblank.
Witnesses routinely recount the screaming and the fear once the people realized they were about to be murdered. The killers spent full days shooting and shooting and shooting – while many of the townspeople looked on.
Entire villages and towns were therefore complicit in the murders. In fact, Desbois’ book captures the capitalist-like spirit – the systematic process in which thousands of ordinary people volunteered to participate in the murder. He writes about the “architect” – the people who drew up the plans for the murder, including the size and measurement of the pits.
He describes “The Requisitions” in which the Nazis demanded or requisitioned people’s trucks, horses, shovels and labour itself to facilitate the murders. He talks about the “diggers” and the “transporters” whose jobs it was to dig the pits and to transport the Jews to them – and of the catering and cooks who prepared the meals for the murderers so that there wouldn’t be delay.
When Desbois asked one of the “diggers” about who gave the orders and the dimensions, one said: “The Germans. It was the German from the Gestapo. He stood off to the side while we dug the grave…He had paced it out. The grave was deep…he simply measured four meters for the length and four meters for the width, and he drew them with his shovel.” So while the Germans directed the killing, ordinary people – recruited mainly by local police – were active agents throughout the process. It could not have happened this way had gentile neighbours not turned against their Jewish neighbours – had they resisted the Nazis.
Thus, what we know about the murders in concentration camps is only half the knowledge of what truly took place in the Holocaust. Aside from concentration camps, Jewish people were murdered openly on streets; in ghettos; by herding into barns and setting them on fire; and of course through the SS mobile killing squads like the Einsatzgruppen.
In fact, it is believed that 2 million Jews were murdered in this way or 40% of all Jews. Let us not forget Babi Yar in Kiev where about 100,000 people (mostly Jews) were murdered by Germans in 1941 by shooting.
Let us not forget this account about the Krepiecki Forest, just outside of Lublin and Majdanek. “The Jews were driven down from the trucks and they were led to the same place where the children were murdered. Some of the Jews held their children in their arms. I observed the massacre from a distance of about 150 metres but from a different direction than before. Germans drove the Jews down to the pits. There were horrible screams.
A group of six SS officers and Lithuanians shot into the Jews who were already in the pits. I’m sure that they were SS men because on their caps they had death’s head insignia and on their sleeves the signs of SS.” (Source: www.holocaustresearchproject.org/einsatz/krepiecki)
Researchers have only scratched the surface of our understanding of the perhaps millions of people who lie beneath fields and ravines – whom we will never know about. They are undocumented and erased from history. There are no gravestones to mark their existence.Their property had been immediately stolen by their neighbours and all personal belongings recycled or burned.
We cannot possibly account for this incredible crime against humanity which was committed by the Germans – but also by those who collaborated and conspired with them. Those who stood by and said and did nothing.
More research is necessary to uncover and document as many mass graves as possible. Unfortunately, too many neighbours and Nazis have gotten away with murder. But the least we can do is to identify the mass graves and mark them with a headstone for eternity.