In this age of social media and 24/7 news channels, we have become accustomed to the daily barrage of grim news reports and depressing stories, from Uvalde to Ukraine. Conditioned to compartmentalize, we somehow digest the bad news and move on throughout our day. But for anyone who has set foot on the grounds of the Auschwitz death camp, there is no compartmentalizing of emotions; there is no moving on throughout the day; there is no grasping the unparalleled evil that happened here, culminating in the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews.
How does one comprehend how a country, an army, a single person performed such daily depraved acts on other human beings? How does one grapple with the scale of these evil actions — actions that led to 6 million deaths? We simply cannot.
History does provide an understanding of how such horrors began. It started with a lie.
But history does provide an understanding of how such horrors began. It started with a lie. Then more lies. Then the big lie. In this tragic case, the lie was that Jews lost the first World War for Germany. These lies spread all too easily among Germans and led to Jewish homes and businesses being vandalized. They led to Jews being singled out in businesses and school. They led to a permissive attitude toward creeping antisemitism. Until the lies and the stigmatism of Jews led step by step by step to deportations, executions, and extermination.
This first chapter of the Holocaust against the Jewish people is why we are here, on Holocaust Remembrance Day; to remind ourselves that antisemitism can never be allowed to find safe harbor in polite society, whether on elite college campuses, on social media platforms, or in country clubs with former presidents. Passive acceptance invites violence.
Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal warned that “violence is like a weed… It does not die even in the greatest drought.” He told President Jimmy Carter in 1980 that “Hitler and Stalin are alive today… They are waiting for us to forget, because in forgetting, we make possible the resurrection of these monsters.”
And so, these grounds, this gathering, this Holocaust museum bears daily witness to what happened here and across Europe not so long ago.
Wiesenthal wrote that his entire life of hunting down Nazis was driven by a singular focus: to send a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, “you will never rest.”
We will never rest. We will never forget.