Holocaust survivors use social media to fight anti-Semitism

BERLIN (AP) – Alarmed by the rise of online anti-Semitism during the pandemic, along with studies that indicate that younger generations even lack basic knowledge about Nazi genocide, Holocaust survivors are accessing social media to share their experiences. experiences of how hate speech paved the way for mass murder.

With short video messages retelling their stories, #ItStartedWithWords participants The campaign’s hope to educate people about how the Nazis embarked on an insidious campaign to dehumanize and marginalize Jews – years before extermination camps were established to carry out industrial-scale killings.

Six individual videos and a compilation were being released on Thursday on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, followed by one video a week. The posts include a link to a web page with more testimonials and teaching materials.

“We are not many more going out and talking, we are few, but our voices are heard”, Sidney Zoltak, an 89-year-old survivor from Poland, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Montreal.

“We are not there to tell stories that we read or hear – we are telling facts, telling what happened to us, our neighbors and our communities. And I think this is the strongest possible way. ”

As soon as the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, its leaders immediately began to fulfill their promises to “Aryanize” the country, segregating and marginalizing the Jewish population.

The Nazi government encouraged a boycott of Jewish businesses, which were marked with the star of David or the word “Judas” – Jewish. Propaganda posters and films suggested that Jews were “worms”, comparing them to mice and insects, while new laws were passed to restrict all aspects of Jewish life.

Charlotte Knobloch, who was born in Munich in 1932, remembers in her video message how her neighbors suddenly forbid their children to play with her or other Jews.

“I was 4,” recalls Knobloch. “I didn’t even know what Jews were.”

The campaign, launched to coincide with Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, was organized by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, which negotiates compensation for the victims. It is supported by many organizations, including the United Nations.

It is a study released this week by Israeli researchers who found that coronavirus blockades last year changed some anti-Semitic hatred online, where conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the medical and economic devastation of the pandemic abounded.

Although the annual report by researchers at Tel Aviv University on anti-Semitism showed that the social isolation of the pandemic resulted in fewer acts of violence against Jews in 40 countries, Jewish leaders expressed concern that online vitriol could lead to physical attacks when the blockade ends.

Supporting the new online campaign, the Auschwitz International Committee noted that one of the men who invaded the United States Capitol in January wore a sweatshirt with the slogan “Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom”.

“The survivors of Auschwitz experienced firsthand what it is like when words become actions,” wrote the organization. “Their message to us: don’t be indifferent!”

Recent surveys by the Claims Conference in several countries have also revealed a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people, which the organization hopes the campaign will help resolve.

In a study of 50 Millennial states and people of the Z-age generation in the U.S. last year, researchers found that 63% of respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and 48% did not know how to name a single camp. extermination or concentration camp.

Claims Conference President Gideon Taylor told the AP that the polls highlighted that “messages and concepts and ideas that were common and understood 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago” no longer exist.

After the success of a social media campaign last year using messages from survivors to pressure Facebook to ban posts who deny or distort the Holocaust, Taylor said it makes sense to seek help on social media again.

“The Holocaust did not come out of nowhere,” he said. “Before Jews were expelled from their schools, their jobs, their homes, before synagogues, shops and businesses were destroyed. And before there were ghettos, camps and cattle cars, words were used to stoke hatred ”.

“And who can trace that line of dangerous words to horrible acts better than those who lived in the depths of human depravity?”

For Zoltak, the escalation of words to actions came quickly after the invading Nazi army occupied his city east of Warsaw in mid-1941. The Nazis quickly implemented the anti-Semitic laws they had already instituted in western Poland that occupied two years ago and forced Zoltak’s parents to work as slaves, he said.

A year later, the Germans forced all the city’s Jews – about half the population of 15,000 – into a ghetto segregated from the rest of the city, subject to strict regulations and restricted food rations.

Three months later, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto, transporting its residents to the Treblinka death camp or killing them along the way.

Zoltak was one of the lucky few, managing to escape with his parents to a nearby forest. They hid in the area until the following spring, when they were taken in by a Catholic family on a nearby farm and sheltered during the war.

After the war, he returned to his city and learned that all but 70 of the 7,000 Jews were killed, including all his classmates and his father’s entire family.

“Sometimes it is difficult to understand,” he said. “We are not really dealing with numbers, they were humans who had a name, who had families.”


Follow David Rising on https://twitter.com/davidrising