Since 2005, the world has marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Russian army. This remembrance day came about as a result of a resolution that Israel introduced in 2005. It was Israel’s first ever resolution to the United Nations General Assembly and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of 104 countries who recognized that in order to avoid similar atrocities in the future, we must learn from them in the present. It is a day used to mark the sadistic murder of over six million Jewish men, women and children, of whom 1.1 million of them perished in Auschwitz alone.
It is the Holocaust itself that led to the founding of the United Nations. After the trauma of World War II, the United Nations was created in order to preserve peace amongst the nations. Papers were drafted to prevent further mass genocide, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International courts were established for the first time ever and Nazi officials tried at the Nuremberg Tribunal for their crimes against humanity. These trials eventually led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, where the primary aim would be to prosecute nations for crimes against humanity.
And yet, despite these measures, we have in recent times experienced an alarming rise in Holocaust denial, distortion and antisemitism. Throughout the COVID pandemic, we have seen an eruption of antisemitism and hate, and in May 2021, during the Israel-Hamas conflict, where Israel defended itself from thousands of rockets launched by Hamas at civilians, we witnessed a surge in antisemitic attacks across the globe. Both the US and the UK reported double the number of incidents than the previous year in the same period, and Jews across the world suffered more aggression, bullying, harassment, and physical and verbal abuse than we have ever seen in current times. The social media and online platforms are undoubtedly the biggest culprits for this dissemination of antisemitism, hatred, and distortion of the truth.
A recently published report by the WZO and the Jewish Agency highlighted that, last year, a third of all antisemitic incidents globally took place in the US. This is an exceptionally worrying trend, given that the US is home to the second largest Jewish community in the world after Israel. A 2020 US-based survey brought to our attention that many US citizens lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust. Ten percent of those surveyed denied that the Holocaust happened or were not sure that it happened. 63% were not aware how many Jewish people had died, and, disturbingly, 11% believed that Jews themselves had caused the Holocaust. This is not surprising given that 31 states in the US still do not require schools to incorporate Holocaust education into their curriculum.
The rise in global incidents combined with recent data is concerning and serves as a clear reminder that even as we remember the biggest tragedy the world has ever seen, we seem to be forgetting the lessons of the past. To stop this trend, we need to do more than educate through textbooks. We need to set a new global standard to stress the dire consequences that occur when certain groups are targeted and dehumanized.
Israel recently put forward its second-ever UN resolution. This new resolution, supported by Germany as well as Israel, aims to halt the trend of Holocaust denial and increasing global antisemitism. Its goal is to define Holocaust denial, in conjunction with the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It subsequently aims to call on UN member states to impose tighter controls, both on and offline, and proactively act against this hatred and denial in their own countries.
The latest resolution is one element of a wider effort to build a globally coordinated and multidimensional program that actively counters antisemitism and Holocaust denial. We must clearly demonstrate to governments worldwide as well as to social media companies how to act when they witness such discourse. In countries such as Germany, France and Poland, Holocaust denial is illegal and this is a step in the right direction.
But it is not enough. The world is starting to forget. We see that post-war lessons are beginning to fade and old hatreds are resurfacing. If this tendency is not halted it will be our modern tragedy because forgetfulness is often accompanied by a resurgence of old hatreds, a comeback we are beginning to experience today. We need to heed this warning by strengthening our efforts on all fronts, including in education and legislation, to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.
Most importantly we must bear witness to the accounts of the remaining living Holocaust survivors who serve as first-hand witnesses to the heinous genocide that was committed. With fewer than ever living survivors, we must now make sure we take hold of their baton and share their accounts with the world.
We are responsible for the victims, for the survivors and for future generations. We must ensure that the torture and death of over six million Jewish souls are forever remembered. We must all step up and play our part to share in this burden. The cry “Never Forget” must not be forgotten.