On Jan. 27, 1945, military forces from the Soviet Union liberated the three camps comprising the Auschwitz complex of SS concentration camps: the Auschwitz main camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Auschwitz-Monowitz. Between those three camps, the SS (and SS auxiliaries) murdered nearly 1,300,000 people, of which over 90% were Jews.
The General Assembly of the United Nations, therefore, selected Jan. 27 of each year as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to honor and commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
This is a day for all of us to reflect on the outcome of unchecked and unrestrained intolerance and hatred. Reflecting on the history of the Holocaust helps us understand the impact of social, religious, economic, and political factors on our daily lives and how those factors influence the manner in which we treat each other.
The Holocaust shows us how quickly the bonds of human decency, which bind us all, can become broken and shattered.
Understanding the lessons from the Holocaust enables each of us to understand our individual responsibility and obligation to not be bystanders against hate and to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.
Sadly, it seems we are not learning the lessons. According to recent data, 10% of American Millennials and Gen Z do not believe the Holocaust happened or are unsure the Holocaust happened, and 48% could not name a single concentration camp. The same data reflects that an alarming 59% of American Millennials and Gen Z believe that something like the Holocaust could happen again. These figures demonstrate a significant gap in Holocaust awareness among these two younger generations and a fear in these younger generations that the past might repeat itself.
This lack of knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust is further exacerbated by limited Holocaust education in public schools. Half of our states lack any sort of mandatory public school curriculum on the Holocaust.
This decreasing awareness and understanding is deeply concerning because it is not just about the past; it’s about the present and the future.
While the generational gap in Holocaust education exists, celebrities are utilizing their status to popularize antisemitism and mock the Holocaust, it is no wonder we see a rise in antisemitic hate. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League, the world’s foremost anti-hate organization, currently states that the number of Americans holding antisemitic prejudices has doubled since 2019. It is no wonder American Millennials and Gen Z fear the Holocaust could happen again to the Jewish people.
But there is hope. Organizations like the Institute for Holocaust Research and Education are working tirelessly to educate younger generations about the Holocaust and its lessons. Through outreach campaigns, the institute is providing Millennials and Gen Z — and all generations — with the knowledge and the tools they need to be courageous and compelled to share the legacy and lessons about the Holocaust and to combat antisemitism. We amplify information about the Holocaust so people can learn to recognize signs which are symptomatic of the threats to morality, human decency and dignity, and perhaps even democracy.
Learning about the Holocaust — and lessons from the past — should compel us all to not stand idly by in the face of antisemitism, racism, or other forms of baseless hatred and intolerance. Unrestrained hatred can undoubtedly lead to destruction.
On this anniversary, please remember and honor those who perished during the Holocaust, those who selflessly risked their own lives to rescue the oppressed, those who liberated the imprisoned, and those who survived the horrors of the camps.
Mitchel Chargo is founder and president of the Institute for Holocaust Research and Education and is also a partner in a national law firm with an office in Minneapolis. The institute ( theihre.org ) is a nonprofit funded through donations and the generosity of volunteers. Follow the institute on social media at @endhateihre. Chargo wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the request of the Opinion page.