On January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz. The date is now consecrated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as the world vowed never to allow murderous anti-Semitism to recur. Yet 75 years later, attacking Jews has once again become socially acceptable in many countries—across the left-right ideological spectrum, and among different groups that blame Jews for their grievances and oppression.
The recent eruptions of anti-Semitism in America have awakened us to a prejudice that has long resided, in quiet ways and in many forms, in this country. And the part of it that now disguises itself as anti-Zionism—hatred of the Jewish state that was established in the wake of the Holocaust as a refuge for Jews—has even seemed, to some, virtuous, a sentiment they believe puts them in humanity’s moral vanguard.
And anti-Semitism has returned, in part, because the general public’s knowledge about the Holocaust—of what exactly it was, who exactly was murdered in it, how many were killed, and how anti-Semitism spawned it—has diminished. For a time, that knowledge discredited anti-Semitism and those who indulged in it. But the passing of survivors who experienced the Holocaust and could testify to it, the denial and minimization of the Holocaust, and the hijacking of the word itself to advance numerous other causes, great and small, all combined to diminish its memory. The horrifying knowledge of where anti-Semitism can lead has been, in large measure, lost in a miasma of forgetting, ignorance, denial, confusion, appropriation, and obfuscation.
As a former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, many of whose uncles, aunts, and cousins, and a grandmother, were murdered in the Holocaust; as a professor who has taught a generation of students about the memory of the Holocaust; as a psychiatrist who is well aware of humanity’s repertoire of hatred and brutality; as a professor of international affairs; and as a student of Jewish history who is deeply aware of the many times masses of Jews were murdered or expelled simply because they were Jews, I watch anti-Semitism’s global resurgence, so soon after the Holocaust, with alarm and foreboding. Could murderous anti-Semitism, on a large scale, resume in our time? Could “never again,” vowed so solemnly and so repeatedly after the Holocaust, revert to “yet again”?