Every spring as we approach Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I am reminded how profoundly affected I am by each survivor’s story. Those who bore witness to unspeakable horrors, and those who lost everyone and were forced to start over again, suffered tremendous pain that no group of people should ever have to endure.
Seventy-four years ago, as the extent of the Nazi atrocities became known, we vowed that the world would never forget. Seventy-four years ago, we made a commitment that the Holocaust would never become a mere page in the annals of world history.
Yet, this May, as we commemorate Yom HaShoah, it’s hard to believe the horrors of the Holocaust are fading from the public consciousness. It hasn’t even been a century, yet already there are strong indications that memories of this atrocity are slipping – particularly among the younger generation.
A survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 41 percent of millennials believe that substantially less than six million Jews were killed, and 70 percent say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than in the past. A similar study conducted with the Azrieli Foundation found that 52 percent of millennials in Canada cannot name one concentration camp or ghetto. Similar polls in Britain echo these findings.
Today anti-Semitism is on the rise and anti-Semitic hate incidents are surging around the world. That is why our agenda to educate and commemorate the Holocaust and remember its victims is becoming all that more urgent.
Over the years, the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), the advocacy arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, has been central to this effort. In addition to our annual community commemoration of Yom HaShoah – this year the program will be held on Sunday, May 5 – we engage in countless educational programs, run a Holocaust survivors speaker’s bureau and partner with the Jewish Museum of Maryland on teacher workshops. The BJC provides speakers for programs like this year’s events to mark Anne Frank’s birthday.
Last year, the BJC sent speakers to 54 public, private and parochial schools and organizations, including churches and military facilities. We know we made a difference when we hear from teachers, such as the John Carroll School’s Louise Brink Géczy, who said that the speaker’s bureau and teacher workshops have had a “greater impact on me and the students … than any other resource I have encountered in my 45 plus years as an educator.”
As Elie Wiesel once said, “To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn’t prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death.”
The stakes are high. We cannot fail.
Howard Libit is executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.