Many nations around the world have had catastrophes. Real, painful ones. Genocides. Wars. Injustices. Some have lasted mere days, but have been felt for centuries.
Colonialism left in its wake tens of millions of victims. The shocking brutality of Belgian King Leopold’s Congo, French Algeria, German Namibia, the Japanese in Korea, the British in India and Spanish South America, to name but a few, must be taught and internalized everywhere. We Jews must commit ourselves to educating about the atrocities of Polpot, the genocide of Rwanda and the horrific stories of the slave trade.
And while we have a duty to remember that each and every human catastrophe stands alone in its unique horror, and every injustice deserves to be loudly condoned, as Jews, we must own our Holocaust, while using its message to spread the universal values of morality, tolerance and understanding.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we haven’t seen the misappropriation of colonial struggles, African genocides or Southeast Asian massacres. Only the motifs of our unique period of suffering have been used as symbols for anti-vaxxers and those protesting coronavirus restrictions and measures.
As we are set to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday this week, let us recall the horrors of Josef Mengele’s gruesome experiments on helpless children, the mass shootings in the forests of Eastern Europe, the Nazis instructing fathers to hang their sons—the systematic murder of 6 million Jews. These unfathomable acts of evil should never be diluted and distorted for cheap political points. Nor should they be misappropriated for cynical campaigns or protests.
In a digital era when we are inundated with information, misinformation and disinformation, campaigners and activists look to use shock tactics to grab attention. Such methods, however, not only disrespect those who suffered, but dangerously steal a narrative, a history, a truth that humanity needs to remember in order for future generations to avoid repeating the aforementioned evil.
As third-generation Holocaust survivors, the grandchildren of those who witnessed and were victims of these unimaginable crimes, we have a duty to speak up. To call out these disgraceful acts of misappropriation. To work together with Jews and gentiles, to make sure that the unique lessons of this unique tragedy are passed on to the next generation.
Over recent years working closely with B’nai B’rith in Australia, I saw firsthand how Holocaust survivors telling their own personal stories can impact the lives of complete strangers: how the retelling of truth from decades ago can help educate for tolerance and understanding in today’s complex reality of competing narratives.
Together, we educated more than 200,000 young individuals creating new ambassadors of the truth, to pass this message on and educate further. We have been taught how to be “upstanders” instead of bystanders, and how to fight back against prejudice, racism, bullying and hate.
Through the Neishlos Foundation, I am now committed to making this truth travel further, so that our very particular story can have a truly universal effect. We have partnered with the March of the Living to bring more and more people to Auschwitz to see this truth—to feel it—up close and personally; to stand up and be counted; to march for life.
I come from a family whose very existence is due to righteous people who stood up for life. My grandmother, as a young Jewish girl in Latvia, was taken in and saved by a Christian couple who risked their and their family’s lives to rescue her. One cannot even fathom the bravery required to undertake such an act: to endanger your own children to save another child, a perfect stranger.
And just as this is my story, the Holocaust is ours.
We should not be ashamed of it. We should tell it. And we should speak up when others are distorting it—not only for the sake of the Jewish people but for that of all humanity.
Eitan Neishlos, a grandson of a Holocaust survivor, is the founder and chairman of the Neishlos Foundation, and an ambassador to and strategic partner with the March of the Living.