I grew up in a very large Jewish populated area just outside of Detroit, Michigan. My maternal grandmother was a survivor from Poland; survivors of the horror they experienced not only from the Warsaw Ghetto, but of three Concentration Camps. Her three husbands were survivors. My step-grandparents were survivors. My friends’ grandparents were survivors. This was common in the Detroit suburbs.

Growing up, my family and I encountered antisemitism more than you’d think. This was not surprising considering the high levels of antisemitism Detroit, as well as the whole state of Michigan had, were some of the highest levels in the country. One time a friend said they were “Jewed out of their salad dressing” because they didn’t get the amount they desired. Another instance involved my step-brother and I being called “kikes” by someone close to his mom, unprovoked.

I moved to Phoenix, Arizona after high school in 2001, but did not escape the ignorance and microaggressions of others towards Jews. I remember that after people learned I was Jewish, they made statements ranging from “but you still celebrate Christmas (or believe in Jesus)” to “oh, I knew a Jew in high school, but they didn’t seem Jewish” and even the satirical, but yet offensive, “funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

After moving to Minnesota in 2011, my wife had the first encounter of antisemitism when a customer of the bank she managed, cautioned her in a non-threatening way, when and where she should display her Star of David necklace because of the area they were in.

In 2017, the former Managing Director of the private bank I worked at once told me he didn’t know that Jews were considered a minority, and even questioned whether Jewish people could in fact be considered a non-racial minority group until I kindly reminded him of the events that sparked WWII which he, a native of England was very aware of. Most recently, I had a former client tell me she was “Jewed down” on the price of a home she was selling. While I genuinely don’t necessarily feel these comments were made with malicious intent, these comments are systemic and need to be addressed in a constructive, yet educational manner.

I was alarmed but not shocked when I learned of the data about Millennials and Gen Z that revealed the following statistics: 10% do not believe and/or are uncertain the Holocaust happened, 48% could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto that existed during the Holocaust, and 49% have seen Holocaust denial and distortion on social media or elsewhere online.

I volunteer with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas where I share my grandmother’s story of Holocaust survival with middle school and high school students. These statistics about Millennial and Gen Z Holocaust education and awareness are included in my presentation, to help them appreciate why I’m at their school. During these presentations, I see the horror on the faces of the students who have never heard a first-hand account of the Holocaust and are empathetic to the tragedy. I also look around to see many students disengaged or uninterested, which, in my opinion, are the students who most likely encounter the hate and intolerance aimed at Jews online.

According to an article on www.apnews.com, there are approximately 240,000 survivors living in the world and about 147,199 of those living in Israel (per TheTimesOfIsrael.com). The average age of a survivor today is between 85-95 years old but there are still some around who are nearing, or past 100 years old. One survivor, Rachel Growe, is especially important to me. Rachel, or known to us as “Nana”, is 99 and a “crazy old woman”, according to her. Nana has around the clock care, attends Shul for Shabbat Services every Saturday morning, has 4 kids, 5 grandkids and 9 great-grandchildren. Nana is a survivor of Auschwitz. Nana’s late husband, Papa Charlie (Charles Growe) was also a survivor, but died in 2020 at 95. Papa, was a survivor from the Nazi occupation of Vienna, and a refugee camp outside of Shanghai, China. Their stories have left a lasting impact on me.

Every year, more and more survivors are dying, which makes telling their stories more and more challenging. Many chose and continue to choose to not to speak about their experiences. In those cases, the world and our Jewish community loses the testimony and memories ingrained in each survivor who passes without testifying or speaking.

It is because of the need to honor the lessons and legacies of the Holocaust, the continuing rise of antisemitism, Holocaust denial or distortion, recent incidents of pop culture celebrities using their status to spew hate, that I so value the work the IHRE is doing. This is why I share my Bubbie’s story of survival to middle school and high school children, and why her recorded testimony is available on the U.S. National Holocaust Museum Memorial’s oral history archives (Listen Here) for the whole world to hear. We need to overpower antisemitism online, educate and remind people that not only did the Holocaust happen, but the HOW and WHY it happened – and, to me, this is just as important if not more, than the fact that the Holocaust happened in the first place. Why? So we can make sure something like the Holocaust never happens again to any group of people.