Concern about keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust is an ongoing problem as the number of living survivors dwindle and surveys indicate a disturbing lack of awareness and knowledge of the Holocaust among young people. And partly as a result of that lack of education, understanding of the Holocaust’s uniqueness is being further eroded is through trivialization.
This is especially true in Latin America, where the region’s post-Holocaust legacy is a mix of positive and negative manifestations. Most countries in the region opened their doors to Holocaust survivors, who integrated into the fabric of the countries they settled in, building strong communities, and contributing to the wellbeing of their adopted countries. Yet, as the survivor population dies out, so does the first-hand accounts of them as victims.
In addition to the survivors, many Nazis found refuge in Latin America after the war, most infamously Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and Josef Mengele in Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.
Today in many Latin American countries we are witnessing a general ignorance about the Holocaust, and a willingness to compare all kinds of things to the genocide of Jews and others in World War II, which serves to diminish its historical significance. All of this demands greater attention toward educating youth about the Holocaust and speaking out against its trivialization.
ADL’s 2019 Global 100 survey of attitudes toward Jews revealed significant percentages of Latin
Americans who agreed with the statement that “Jews talk too much about the Holocaust,” led by Brazil, where 63 percent of survey participants agreed, and Argentina, where 60 percent agreed. Related to these troubling statistics have been many instances of minimizing the murder of six million Jews and even outright praise for Nazism.
There have been troubling examples from all around the region. Here’s a select list
- In Tlaxcala, Mexico, a Nazi-themed wedding recreated the marriage ceremony of Hitler and Eva Braun.
- In Peru, Prime Minister Anibal Torres was forced to retract his praise for Hitler and Nazi Germany’s infrastructure program as a model for economic progress.
- A Chilean newspaper published a positive tribute for Hermann Göring on the 75th anniversary of his death. Göring was one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials who helped create the Gestapo secret police force.
- In Colombia, cadets at a police academy dressed up in Nazi military uniforms with Swastikas during an international cultural exchange event “honoring” German society.
- Monark, a popular Brazilian podcaster with over 3.6 million followers on YouTube, drew outrage for advocating the creation of a Brazilian Nazi party on freedom of expression grounds despite the fact that the Nazi party is outlawed in Brazil. Prosecutors opened an investigation and commercial sponsorships were withdrawn, which resulted in the podcaster apologizing and visiting the local Holocaust Museum in in Curitiba.
The incidents in Chile, Peru, Brazil and Colombia drew strong condemnations from the local German and Israeli embassies as well as the local Jewish communities in those countries. The Colombian president also condemned the incident at the police academy, which provided the local Jewish community with the opportunity to develop Holocaust education in police academies all over the country.
All of these events are disturbing manifestations of a mainstreaming of glorifying Nazism and Nazi leaders.
Related to this, ADL has also observed a proliferation of neo-Nazi extremist groups. According to a report by anthropologist Adriana Dias, the number of neo-Nazi groups in Brazil has skyrocketed in recent years from 75 cells in 2015 to 530 by the end of 2021. While in Argentina, the Federal police thwarted a Neo-Nazi cell planning to attack a synagogue in Tucuman in May 2021.
And not surprisingly, Venezuela’s state-run media has run news stories characterizing the Ukrainian government as Nazis, seemingly inspired by the Russian disinformation campaign used by President Putin to justify the Russian invasion.
In light of these disturbing trends, more governmental action is needed in Latin American countries to educate their public, especially younger demographics about the Holocaust as a uniquely evil historical event.
Fortunately, there are strong, replicable examples of current Holocaust education taking place in countries with Jewish communities or museums dedicated to Jewish themes or the Holocaust. In fact, during the pandemic, 19 institutions operating in the region formed RED LAES, a network for museums to share best practices and collaborate on Holocaust education. Jewish and Holocaust museums in each country actively engage with schools and the broader society to bring students to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and educate about other genocides. In partnership with the Jewish Museum of Chile, ADL’s own Pyramid of Hate curricula is helping educate students in Chile and other countries in the region about how to stop hate before it escalates.
Learning about the Holocaust is not only about preserving the past, but also about keeping today’s extremists at bay. Teaching about the six million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators helps Jewish communities in Latin America feel more secure and comfortable where they live and serves to warn the public about the perils of authoritarianism and resurgent Nazism, whose antisemitism, racism, and rejection of democracy threaten societies across the South American continent.