Now More Than Ever, ‘Never Again’

President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder addresses the offical ceremony at the former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau during events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2020. – More than 200 survivors came from across the globe to the camp the Nazis built in Oswiecim in then-occupied Poland, to share their testimony as a stark warning amid a recent surge of anti-semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic. (Photo by Wojtek Radwanski / AFP) (Photo by WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Leaders from scores of nations, as diverse as Russian President Vladimir Putin to Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, and interfaith visitors from around the world — including an American Jewish Committee-led delegation with dozens of senior Islamic leaders from 28 countries — gathered last week in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Nazi occupiers operated the infamous camp in Poland from 1940 until it was liberated by the Russian Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945. Most estimates agree that the Nazis systematically murdered 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, usually by means of the lethal and horribly efficient Zyklon B gas. At its peak, the camp held nearly 2 million prisoners.   

When the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, soldiers were horrified to find 7,650 emaciated survivors among the piles of bodies.  The nations of the world that had stood silent before and during the Holocaust could no long avert their eyes from what took place in Auschwitz and other camps like Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Treblinka and Sobibor. With a collective voice, world Jewry roared “NEVER AGAIN!”

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Today, it is time for that cry to once again ring out in opposition to increased anti-Semitism and genocide anywhere in the world.

Over the years, scholars and writers, playwrights and filmmakers have produced vast libraries of materials detailing the horrors of the Holocaust. In Jerusalem, Israel established the memorial Yad Vashem, which tells the stories of the heroes and martyrs.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves a similar role in our nation’s capital.

Many other American cities have similar sites of remembrance, including the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center on the Millstone campus in St. Louis County. The museum, now 25 years old, has introduced hundreds of thousands of students and others to the factors that led to the rise of the Nazis as well as the forces that defeated the German war machine and resources that helped survivors rebuild their lives, here and elsewhere.

The museum has lived up to its mission, stated when it opened in 1995:

“Through the lessons of the Holocaust, we inspire all people to confront hatred, promote human dignity and prevent genocide.”

Later this year, the museum plans to begin a dramatic $18 million renovation and expansion project, which includes a $3 million endowment to ensure it can continue to fulfill its mission for many years to come. The new space not only will give more room to its walk-through exhibits and taped testimony from survivors but will help renew its commitment to the second part of its name, a learning center that can reinforce the need for a fight against intolerance and discrimination as well as point the way toward combatting future genocides anywhere on the globe.

Amidst the shocking rise in anti-Semitism, including targeted shootings of Jews in synagogues or attacks on Jews in Hasidic enclaves, some may ask whether investments in building and expanding Holocaust museums are worthwhile.

The answer: We must do so! The remaining survivors are dying at an alarming rate, and videos of their eyewitness accounts must be completed and widely shared, with their lessons heeded.

Everyone — Jews and non-Jews alike — needs state-of-the-art Holocaust museums, now more than ever, to keep the memory and the lessons of Nazi horrors alive. Museums alone can never stop anti-Semitism, of course, but they can be critical tools in the urgent struggle to assure that “Never Again” become more than merely an empty slogan.