'It started with words': Fearing lost lessons, Holocaust survivors launch new campaign

LONDON – Abe Foxman was one year old when the Nazis ordered his parents to report to the Jewish ghetto in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1941.

His nanny, a Catholic, told them to leave the child with them in the expectation that they would be back a few weeks later.

Foxman’s stay with her lasted for years before his parents returned. He moved to America in 1950 at the age of 10 – but his early life experiences never left him.

“I’m a survivor, an example of what good words can lead to,” said 80-year-old Foxman. “My nanny risked her life for four years to protect and hide me and to give me a false identity.”

Foxman, a former director of the Anti-Defamation League, is one of several high-profile survivors who are joining a new #ItStartedWithWords campaign that ponders the origins of the Holocaust.

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The Campaign is spearhead from the New York City-based non-profit claims conference, which campaigns for federal government compensation for survivors. It is supported by the United Nations and Holocaust museums around the world and launched on Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day for the Jewish community.

And the new drive for awareness comes as surveys show an increase in anti-Semitism around the world, as well as a lack of awareness of the Holocaust among adults under 40.

The Claims Conference polled 1,000 Adults in what it said was the first 50-state Holocaust knowledge survey among Millennials and Generation Z. It found that nearly half of those surveyed couldn’t name any of the concentration camps or ghettos established during World War II. More than half could not identify the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and 11 percent believed that Jews caused the Holocaust.

Meanwhile it is FBI reported that more than 60 percent of religious hate crimes in 2019 were directed against Jews, and a poll published in March by the Anti-Defamation League and YouGov found that 63 percent of Jews in America said they experienced or experienced some form of anti-Semitism in the past five years.

“All over the world hating, demonizing, dehumanizing other people has become more acceptable, and we are now seeing it in Asian Americans,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.

“People don’t wake up one day to say that I want to commit mass murder today, but it’s a process where people become dehumanized over time. It starts with words and ideas,” he added.

Research released last month by the California State University’s Center for Hate and Extremism Studies in San Bernardino showed that hate crimes against people of Asian descent rose nearly 150 percent in 2020.

In a video produced for the Claims Conference, the former head of the Jewish community in Germany recalled that one day at the age of 4 she was no longer allowed to play with other children on the other side of the street from her Munich home.

“The apartment manager came out and yelled at me:” Jewish children are not allowed to play with our children, “said Charlotte Knobloch, 88 years old.” I didn’t even know what Jews were. “

The impetus for the campaign came from survivors, the youngest of whom are in their late 70s, concerned that the lessons of the Holocaust will now be forgotten.

“There is politicization, there is a lack of truth, lies are subsiding, there is no consensus on politeness, nobody listens to each other. All taboos about respect and tolerance have been broken, ”said Foxman. “Unfortunately, 75 years after the Holocaust, this is a time to remind people of what words can do.”

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