January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps (USHMM). This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day comes amidst rising antisemitism: anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and neo-Nazi organizing (NPR). With escalating conflicts over “critical race theory” in schools, some have advocated teaching “both sides” of the Holocaust. Other politicians have cynically used Holocaust education as a weapon against teaching the history of other marginalized groups.
The Holocaust was the organized murder of six million Jewish people by Nazi Germany. Rounded up alongside millions of Romani people, gay men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists, communists, disabled people, and trade union members, Jewish people were targeted for extermination by the German state. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jewish people as an inferior race whose existence “polluted” Germany (Britannica). This racial, as opposed to religious, antisemitism was influenced by the race laws of the United States.
• Sign the Stop Hate for Profit petition to hold social media companies – specifically Facebook – accountable for hate and misinformation on their platforms.
• Read Understanding Antisemitism by JFREJ and The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere by April Rosenblum.
• Subscribe to platforms that write about Jewish culture, like Alma, Deep Shtetl, and The Forward.
The horrifying reality of the Holocaust presents a problem for antisemites, who often portray Jewish people as leading an all-powerful global conspiracy since an omnipotent worldwide ruling clique wouldn’t let themselves be mass murdered. Antisemites, therefore, claim that Jewish world domination is so powerful that they invented the Holocaust out of thin air, despite the fact that “the Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best-documented genocide in the world” (USHMM).
But the repugnant misuse of a terrible atrocity isn’t limited to outright neo-Nazis. Right-wing culture warriors attacking “critical race theory” also threaten to eliminate or manipulate Holocaust remembrance and education. The executive director of curriculum and instruction for one Texas school district instructed teachers to pair books on the Holocaust with texts offering an “opposing” perspective to comply with a state CRT ban (Newsweek).
A Republican state legislator in Louisiana proposed mandating Holocaust education in schools while simultaneously attacking education about racism in the United States. “While we appreciate the impulse towards more Holocaust education,” said Rabbi Kate Bauman of New Orleans, “we are also distressed by the context in which this bill came forth.”
“The irony is, you cannot understand the Holocaust without understanding institutional racism. Millions of Germans didn’t suddenly become antisemitic,” said Jim Grossman of the American Historical Association. “By invoking the Holocaust, what some of these politicians seem to be doing is saying to Jews, ‘We’re on your side.’ And they’re not” (JTA).
Learning the truth about the Holocaust is crucial because antisemitism is an ongoing threat. So is state-sponsored violence against other marginalized populations. International Holocaust Remembrance Day should be a reminder of the tragic necessity of this ongoing work.
• January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
• Nazi Germany murdered six million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
• Today, Holocaust education is threatened by attacks on anti-racist education.