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Young displaced Iraqis wait for food distribution at a camp on the outskirts of Erbil. — Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Seventy-five years ago in Nuremberg, Germany, the International Military Tribunal opened with the case of 24 senior Nazi officials (only 22 of whom were ultimately tried). They faced the world’s first charges of crimes against humanity, including for the extermination of European Jewry.

The Nuremberg trials held out a promise: that individuals found to be responsible for the unimaginable horrors that had characterized the Third Reich would be held to account, and that the coming justice would underpin the prevention of future occurrences of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Today, we are faltering in our collective effort to uphold the promise of Nuremberg.

Nowhere is that failure more evident than when I am with Yezidi survivors of a 2014 genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State, and Rohingya survivors of a 2017 genocide by the Burmese military. …


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The distinctive blue-and-white stripes of many concentration camp uniforms make them instantly recognizable. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum collection

The young women applied makeup to make their skin appear bruised and emaciated, their cheekbones hollowed and their eyes swollen. The little girl wore a brown satchel over a blue dress coat with an identification tag hanging off the collar. The new parents put a tiny and familiar fake mustache above their baby’s upper lip.

It seems like each year, no matter how offensive and in poor taste, people dress up (or dress up their children) as the perpetrators or the victims of the Holocaust. For every kid attending a Halloween party as Adolf Hitler or a big chain store selling an Anne Frank costume, there are widespread denunciations or news articles explaining why such outfits are tone deaf and disrespectful to the memory of victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Still, they keep happening. And the explanations usually fall into one of two categories: “I meant no harm” or “I didn’t know what it meant.” …


By Sara J. Bloomfield

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Image courtesy of Geralt via Wikimedia Commons

An important new study on Holocaust denial and social media was recently released by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) based in London. It happened to come on the heels of a major initiative by the Claims Conference to confront online denial through the first Holocaust survivor-driven digital campaign — #NoDenyingIt.

The ISD study’s summary states: “Holocaust denial has long been one of the most insidious conspiracy theories targeting Jewish communities, with its extremist proponents drawn from across the political spectrum, from extreme right-wing to hard left to Islamist. Research has shown that digital platforms have only served to amplify and mainstream this warped strain of thinking in recent years.” The study has three key findings: 1) “Holocaust denial content is readily available across Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter;” 2) “Holocaust denial content is actively recommended through Facebook’s algorithms;” and 3) “shifts in a platform’s terms of service are effective at limiting the spread of Holocaust denial content.” …


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Rohingya arrive in Bangladesh after crossing the Burmese border in September 2017. They walked for days to escape the violence that destroyed their families and homes. —Photo by Greg Constantine

A cell phone photo.

A land ownership document.

A mandolin.

A child’s shirt.

Rohingya who survived mass atrocities committed against their Muslim minority community by their own government grabbed whatever they could carry when they fled their homes in 2017. The Burmese military and security forces confiscated much of their money, jewelry, and family heirlooms. Yet survivors managed to hold onto some objects, sentimental and otherwise, that would come to represent all they had lost and all that remains. They also carried invisible and unwanted reminders of what they experienced.

This month marks three years since the Burmese military murdered more than 9,000 Rohingya throughout Rakhine State on Burma’s western coast. During this month-long massacre in 2017, soldiers burned thousands of homes, schools, stores, and mosques. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh. …


What can be learned from the reluctance of many Germans to grapple with their complicity in the Holocaust?

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An American soldier replaces a street sign in Germany at the end of World War II. —Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland

Germany after Adolf Hitler can be considered an ideal case study for how countries attempt to reckon with their darkest moments. Many laws and policies put in place after the war, as well as the destruction of visible symbols and monuments to the Third Reich, aimed to prevent a resurgence in Nazi ideology. But much can also be learned from the persistent ambivalence and outright rejection by some Germans to this very reckoning. …


Rohingya mothers and fathers will try everything to protect their children from harm, which has now included a genocide and a global pandemic

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Rohingya who fled violent attacks by the military in Burma wait for medical assistance and humanitarian relief in southern Bangladesh in September 2017. —Photo courtesy Greg Constantine

Ten-year-old Jahingir loved learning. After he finished his homework, his parents would often catch him reading even as other neighborhood children played outside. “He was that kind of kid,” said his mother, Jomila.

Thirteen-year-old Tasmina enjoyed school too — though part of the appeal was definitely in socializing. Two of her friends, nicknamed Lalu and Tatu, would come over in the afternoons. …


By Sara J. Bloomfield

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Survivors look on as a group of American soldiers and members of the press inspect a barracks in Dachau. — Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

As our country wages war against a dangerous aspect of Mother Nature, it is worth recalling the war in Europe our nation was bringing to a successful conclusion 75 years ago this spring against the deadly potential of human nature.

The liberation of Europe and Asia from Axis domination was the largest global undertaking in history. World War II touched six continents, with more than 30 combatant nations. Nazi Germany waged two wars: a military one over territory and a genocidal war against the Jews. …


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Detail of the Block of Women memorial to the 1943 protest outside the Jewish community building on the Rosenstrasse in Berlin. Non-Jewish women were calling for the release of their Jewish husbands who were being held there. —Sculpture by Ingeborg Hunzinger. Photo by Avishai Teicher

A crowd of protestors swarmed outside the Berlin Jewish community building on the Rosenstrasse. Inside, behind a police line, about 2,000 Jewish men and boys awaited processing by the Gestapo. Although it was 1943, well into the Nazi “Final Solution” to murder the Jews of Europe, these Jews had survived because of the peculiar position they occupied: the husbands and sons of German women who were not Jewish. They were therefore protected under “privileged marriages” in the parlance of Nazi law. And several hundred of those German women, terrified that the Nazi state was about to murder their loved ones, made up the majority of the protestors crowding the street outside. …


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Jewish children in a clandestine school, located in a stable, in the Kovno ghetto, circa 1941–1942. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eliezer Zilberis

By Sara J. Bloomfield

In difficult times, history can provide perspective as we struggle to understand the present and think about the future. The Holocaust, a very different event at a very different time, reminds us just how catastrophic life can be and what truly matters. It can add deeper meaning to our lives.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, as we face fear, uncertainty, and our own mortality, I have found comfort in reflecting on the remarkable attitude of the Jews imprisoned in the Kovno Ghetto.

While the Germans were waging their genocidal assault on this community, the ghetto inhabitants were waging their own clandestine war — of resistance, resilience, and record-keeping. In an environment of constant humiliation, degradation, starvation, and death, they would take charge of what they could: maintaining their dignity and writing their stories. During the three years of the ghetto’s existence, they secretly but deliberately amassed photography, meeting minutes, diaries, charts and graphs of daily life, yearbooks on the evolving situation of the community, works of art, and much more. …


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SS guards walk along the arrival ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem

January 27, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and killing center by units of the Soviet Red Army. Throughout the world, political dignitaries, museums, and memorials will commemorate this solemn occasion by honoring the six million murdered Jews as well as other victims of Nazi persecution. They will pay tribute to the Holocaust survivors who refused to let the world forget and to the soldiers who liberated the Nazi camps.

Especially in light of the recent upsurge of antisemitic rhetoric and violence, this anniversary compels us to reflect upon the warning signs that led to the Holocaust. …

About

US Holocaust Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires people worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. www.ushmm.org

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