(c) World Jewish Congress / Shahar Azran
Below is a full translation of an op-ed written by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
It was 76 –years ago today that a single Soviet soldier walked through the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and was unable to comprehend what he saw. To him and others, the camp resembled a prison complex, but the mountains of lifeless bodies, the terrible smell, and the surviving prisoners indicated that this was not that at all. "They neither greeted us nor smiled,” wrote Primo Levi, a former Auschwitz prisoner. "They seemed overwhelmed, not only with compassion, but also with a confused restraint that sealed their lips and glued their eyes to this burial site." Primo Levi had the impression that the soldiers who saw them were ashamed.
Since that day, gifted writers, philosophers and theologians have attempted to explain what these soldiers discovered within the notorious gates, and yet no one has found an adequate response commensurate with the horrors encountered. Perhaps author Primo Levi's concept of shame comes closest to how the whole world felt when it saw this desecration of human life. It is not only Germany that bears the burden of this desecration. Presumably, all people feel shamed by the abyss of evil with which we have become acquainted.
Jews are afraid once again.
Shortly after World War II, it appeared that the virus of antisemitism was finally defeated. No one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis. Even its proponents, who still cling to their hateful philosophy, at least understood that they had to hide it. But today, three generations and 76 years later, what do we do about the resurgence of antisemitism? During the coronavirus pandemic, antisemitism increased by 18 percent worldwide. And Jews have even been blamed for the virus. When the plague raged in Europe in the 14th century, Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Today, internet caricatures portray jets affixed with the Star of David dropping the virus on innocent victims: a new technology, but still the same scapegoat.
Europe has always been a breeding ground for hatred of Jews, but today such hatred appears all over the world. It comes from the far-right and the far-left, from the Middle East, and even from my own country, the United States - a fact that I am particularly sorry to see. In a year in which racial conflict divided America, 62 percent of all religious hate crimes were directed at Jews. In Germany, antisemitic incidents doubled in the last three years, with more than 2,000 incidents recorded in 2019.
There is absolutely no other country that has dealt with its responsibility for the Second World War more openly, honestly, and decently than Germany. Not Austria, not Japan. Your chancellors from Adenauer to Brandt to Angela Merkel have shown the world what responsible leadership means. You enlightened the post-war generation, sometimes at the cost of family peace. But as I walked through the synagogue that was attacked in Halle, when I spoke to the people there, and when I learned that Jews have again become afraid of wearing symbols of their religion in public, I wondered whether enough is being done to enlighten the younger generation.
One and a half million children murdered.
I think we need to upgrade Holocaust education. I know education is an issue in itself, but if regular schooling is not enough to prevent ignorance, additional efforts have to be made, just as when we are confronted with any other problem where the existing responses are inadequate. Governments in Europe, and especially in Germany, must therefore think about establishing an additional compulsory program in Holocaust education beyond what is done today. This also includes Holocaust education for university students during their introductory lectures. Moreover, we need to find ways to reach those who are not getting a college education, possibly through social media. But we must do something.
History teaches us that if we don't pay close attention, if we ignore the warning signs all around us, if we fail to counter antisemites with the truth, honesty and strict legislation, then in the end, all people will suffer.
The past should not become the future.
Yes, Germany started persecuting the Jews in 1933, but within 12 short years an entire continent was in ruins and 60 million people were dead. There is one more number that remains that breaks our hearts in the process: one and a half million. That is the number of Jewish children who were murdered in the gas chambers, shot by soldiers of the task force, or starved to death on the streets of the ghettos. If these children were allowed to lead a normal life like your children, they would have been educated, married, started a family and had children of their own. I have always wondered what scientific discoveries, what great literature and music has been lost to the world.
The world's indifference led to the crimes of the Third Reich, and the whole world suffered from this indifference. In the conversations I have had with Holocaust survivors, I experienced the real fear of seeing again the seeds of hatred that were being implemented as the "Final Solution." These honorable and good people who had done nothing wrong - except that in Germany's eyes they were born Jewish - everything was taken from them. Their parents. Their families. Their homes. Everything.
And yet, they left the horror behind and never sought revenge. They simply lived a life of quiet dignity. It would be a crime if their past became the future of their grandchildren. I say to the people in Germany: Do not allow your own past to become the world’s future.