Perspectives 01.27.2022

Conversations with Colleagues: International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Persistence of Antisemitism

A Q&A with Joshua Rubin, a Senior Associate in our Washington, D.C. studio, on the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust and standing up to antisemitism
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Photo by Amit Lahav on Unsplash

On January 27th we join the world in recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD). The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews and several million other victims at the hands of the Nazi Germany regime lead by Adolf Hitler, its allies, and collaborators. In 2005, the United Nations designated January 27th as a day for commemoration ceremonies marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and as a day of remembrance.

The UN resolution establishing IHRD encourages all member states to preserve the sites and facilities of the Nazi killing centers, the concentration camps, and the prisons used during the Holocaust. These places serve as an ever-present reminder of the horror that happened so that the world never forgets what happened, but also, they serve as incontrovertible proof that the Holocaust was real.

Joshua Rubin, a Senior Associate in our Washington, D.C. studio, has led several important conversations with our studios about recognizing and standing up to antisemitism. Here, he shares his thoughts on the importance of IHRD, and how we at Perkins&Will can be allies in defeating antisemitism.

 

First off, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts as we recognize and honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Why is IHRD important to you?

What’s important about IHRD to me is that the world continue to remember the Holocaust, if only for one day of the year, so that as one human race we never allow something like that to happen again.  It gives me hope that at some point in the future, antisemitism and all forms of hate will be something of the past.  IHRD is also an opportunity to further education about the Holocaust to counter misrepresentation of the events of the Holocaust and Holocaust Denial.

 

We have witnessed a rise in hate crimes targeting the Jewish faith across the country. What is important to understand about the violent acts and impacts of antisemitism, and how can we stand up to it together?

Most recently, on January 15, 2022, a gunman entered Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas and held the congregants and their rabbi hostage.  This terrorist act has inspired further expressions of antisemitism throughout the country, with right-wing extremists exploiting the hostage situation to advance their own antisemitic, conspiratorial, and bigoted ideologies.  Holocaust deniers are claiming the attack on the synagogue was yet another opportunity for Jews to complain about their victimhood, with some alleging that as the Jews eagerly exaggerate the number of people who died during the Holocaust, so too would they hype up the fear and impact of the hostage situation.[1]

Attacks such as these don’t just impact the immediate victims, their families, and the community.  It is felt around the world by every Jew.  Chrissy Houlahan, the 6th Congressional District of Pennsylvania representative, recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer – “…those who do not stand with the Jewish people and acknowledge our shared history are also jeopardizing the prospect of our collective future in a world that is peaceful civil, and decent.  We must come together and build a society rooted not in bigotry, but in our shared understanding and respect of all persons.”[2]

 

Sadly, and quite frighteningly, Holocaust denial has been rising in the United States. How has that contributed to the rise in hate crimes we are seeing today?

IHRD is also a day to resolutely reject any form of Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial, a form of antisemitism, is the claim that Jews fabricated evidence of their genocide to gain sympathy and to extract reparations from Germany.  It is the attempt to negate the facts of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people; a belief that the Holocaust did not happen or that it was greatly exaggerated with claims such as that the diary of Anne Frank is an invention, the use of gas chambers in concentration camps never happened, and the murder of almost 6 million Jews is grossly inflated.  This is all despite the extensive historical documentation, the written and recorded firsthand testimony from Holocaust survivors, and the preserved sites and facilities used during the Holocaust.

When content expressing Holocaust denial is allowed to spread and combine with a lack of education about the Holocaust, the damage is all encompassing and leads to the propagation of further antisemitic beliefs.  In fact, Holocaust denial has been accompanied by a sharp spike in the last five years of violent antisemitic incidents across the world.  In 2020, there were a total of 2,024 antisemitic incidents reported to the Anti-Defamation League.[3]  That is one of the highest levels of reported antisemitic incidents since the ADL began tracking these incidents in 1979.  2019 had a higher level of 2,107 incidents.  In 2021, 1 out of 4 Jews in the United States was the target of an antisemitic incident.

 

Countries around the world are facing rising instances of antisemitism and Holocaust denial, with some incidents openly supported—or at least not condemned—by individuals in power. Recent comparisons to policies keeping our communities safe, such as mask wearing and vaccination, to the Holocaust demonstrate a rising willingness to use the Holocaust as propaganda which dishonors the millions who died. Unfortunately, some incidents have been openly supported or at least not condemned by individuals in power. This can make people who want to stand up to this hate feel helpless, but we shouldn’t give up. What are things that allies – both companies and individuals – can take action on?

As individuals, we can advocate against hate in the United States by signing a petition urging Congress to enact the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act and the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.  We can contact our local Jewish communities to support or initiate other legislative action around the world. We can stop the spread of hate online by reporting it directly to social media platforms.  We can report incidents of antisemitism to the Anti-Defamation League, the local Jewish community, and local law enforcement.

We can talk to our friends, our families, and our children to educate them about the consequences of antisemitism, extremism, and hate.

Within the workplace, we can educate our employees. At Perkins&Will our Justice, Equity, Diversity + Inclusion Council provides a platform to inform and promote strategies and practices where everyone feels safe and welcome. I have facilitated presentations to help raise awareness of antisemitism; understanding its history and the impact of discrimination, bias and hate crimes.

 

Tell us about the personal significance of this day, and how you have found ways to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust.

January 27th also happens to be my birthday.  Since 1977 and the 28 years thereafter I only ever had to share my birthday with the Superbowl, which ultimately added to the celebratory atmosphere.  When I learned that the 27th of January had been selected as IHRD, I was conflicted.  How could I celebrate my birthday and at the same time remember the atrocity that was the Holocaust?  How could I enjoy birthday cake and open presents when I should be spending my time remembering all of those who lost their lives?

I decided that there is celebration in remembrance.  The celebration is that despite the attempted genocide perpetrated in the Holocaust, the Jewish people are still alive.  Throughout the almost 6000-year history of the Jews, we have been persecuted, exiled, and hunted.  It is miraculous that the Jewish people continue to survive.  But as Chrissy Houlahan also wrote in the same article “being Jewish and alive should not be a miracle.”[4]

 

What important lessons from the Holocaust and antisemitism should Perkins&Will employees and those beyond take to heart on International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

The most important lesson is that staying silent and not speaking out against antisemitism is the absolute worst thing that can be done.  Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s Nazism is famous for the following quote “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Staying silent and not condemning ANY and ALL acts of hate makes one complicit.

 

 

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[1] Anti-Defamation League. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.adl.org/

[2]  Houlahan, C. (2022, January 20). It shouldn’t take a miracle to be Jewish and alive. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

[3] Anti-Defamation League. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.adl.org/

[4] Houlahan, C. (2022, January 20). It shouldn’t take a miracle to be Jewish and alive. The Philadelphia Inquirer.