My earliest recollection of hearing about the Holocaust came in the mid-1950s, as our family sat around the Passover Seder table. My parents had invited my mother’s best friend to join us that evening, and I remember listening intently to the discussion about families lost and the devastation wrought by Nazi rule throughout Europe.
That mental image reappeared when I read that Amazon UK had taken down a promotion by the company Harma Art for the sale of T-shirts and hoodies bearing a silkscreened reproduction of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa,” one of the most widely circulated photos of Nazi brutality.
A lone Jewish victim sits on the edge of a ravine with his face to the camera, as a member of a Nazi Einsatzgruppe (the SS paramilitary death squad) is about to shoot him in the back of the head. Fourteen other Einsatzgruppen troops stand behind the one with the pistol, about to witness just one more brutal killing in a day that must have taken hundreds, if not thousands of innocent victims.
That photo always gets to me. It personalizes the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust to one terrified victim. For a brief moment, you can try to imagine the fear that each individual experienced just before death.
What did Harma Art intend when it had those T-shirts and hoodies manufactured? Was it looking to market that apparel to Neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic far-right operatives who might don the shirts at rallies and demonstrations?
It’s not readily apparent. The blurb that accompanied photos of the merchandise promoted it this way: “Choose from our great collection of authentic designs and stand out from the crowd!”
Shock value! Be the first in your neighborhood to wear a hoodie with a photo of a Jew about to be shot!
The ease with which this marketing pitch was made tells us volumes about the global trivialization and desecration of the Holocaust, even while there are still survivors with tattoos on their arms who witnessed the worst moral depravity in history.
We saw an early indication of what was to come in 1965, with the airing of the comedy series “Hogan’s Heroes” on CBS, with its bumbling Nazi characters. Later, in 1995, “Seinfeld” undermined the depravity of Nazis by introducing a mean shop proprietor, labeling him “the Soup Nazi.”
In the nearly 25 years since, we’ve seen dozens of examples of Holocaust-related terms, or the word “genocide” being applied to situations that are neither appropriate nor analogous.
Israel often is the target of such intentionally misplaced opprobrium. Its defensive barrier is compared to being akin to the Warsaw ghetto.
Editorial cartoonists have been engaged in this for some time, with depictions of Israeli soldiers as Nazis. One that I particularly recall was in the Danish newspaper Politiken. In a play on another famous photo from the Holocaust, in which Nazi soldiers, with guns pointed, are rounding up Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and a young boy has his hands up, this cartoon substitutes Palestinians for Jews, and Israeli soldiers for Nazis.
And then there was the homework assignment in Oswego County, New York, that asked students to make arguments for or against the “Final Solution.”
Even members of Congress are not immune to the spread of this kind of trivialization. In the debate over health care reform, members from both parties traded barbs that contained Holocaust-era imagery, including references to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, “the big lie,” and appeasement (as in the Munich Pact, which preceded the outbreak of war in Europe).
Comparisons of undocumented immigrant detention centers to Nazi concentration camps is the most recent example. Pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) legislation introduced in Congress only weeks ago alluded to the need for imposing an economic boycott of Israel, just as we had done with Nazi Germany (and the Soviet Union and South Africa).
Notwithstanding efforts in many places to institute Holocaust education programs, the passage of time has presented Jewish educators and organizations with a tremendous challenge.
A poll commissioned by the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany (known as the Claims Conference) found that among American millennials, “22 percent have not heard of or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.” Further, 41 percent in the poll “believe that 2 million Jews or less were killed in the Holocaust.” And 49 percent could not name one concentration camp or ghetto. An astounding 66 percent were not able to identify the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Research in Canada, Austria and Germany revealed somewhat similar findings. Millennials in the latter two countries felt overwhelmingly that Holocaust education was important (many had participated in such programs); yet in Austria, 17 percent of those polled believed that only “100,000 or fewer Jews were murdered” in the Holocaust.
And that brings us back to the Internet offering for clothing adorned with the searing photo from Vinnitsa. The passage of time, 24/7 coverage of civil wars, executions and a daily plethora of amateur videos of shootouts and shoot-ups that come to us as “Breaking News” have dulled the senses to genocides and violence of historic proportions.
And though there are dueling arguments about the effect of video games, can one really doubt that such fare at least makes young people inured to violence, past or present?
Four decades ago, when I began my career in community relations, I used to have a line in my speeches that said: “There’ll come a time when the last survivor, who was there and could tell us about what he or she experienced, will be gone. And then there will be no one here to answer, with first-person authority, the Holocaust minimizers and deniers.”
We’re close to that point. We need to redouble our efforts, at every level, to educate and remember. Media outlets cannot be flippant or careless when these images and comparisons are aired.
The mega-Internet community, already under fire for allowing “anything goes” content policies to prevail over common sense and good taste, needs to be far more vigilant than it claims it is. And officeholders, at every level, need to dial back completely the kind of harmful hyperbole which often gets a pass for being just good old political rhetoric.
The slippery slope of Holocaust trivialization is upon us. We owe it to the victims, and ourselves, to ensure now that it be reversed.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
In recent weeks, I found myself inundated with front page news headlines, opinion pieces and press releases on the Israeli government’s decision to bar entry to two American congresswomen to the country (it just so happened that these congresswomen also attempted to bring the unfathomable thought of boycotting Israel into the halls of Congress). The outpour of reactions, ranging from disagreement to outrage, from the American Jewish community was striking to me, because in real-time over in Israel, it appears the country could once again be on the verge of war, and this time on several fronts.
Last fall, I attended a briefing on a report by the Jewish Institute for National Security in America (JINSA) titled, “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges.” A fundamental issue the report articulates is that because Hezbollah cannot defeat Israel by force, the Iranian proxy will exploit its next war with Israel in the court of public opinion, further delegitimizing the Jewish State in the international community, even if Israel decisively wins in battle.
Publicly lambasting the Israeli government on the issue of the congresswomen simply gave more fuel to the fire to a media and world community that takes any opportunity to criticize or condemn the one Jewish State. It doesn't seem wise to do so at a time when we should be advocating in the public sphere about the intensifying crisis on Israel’s borders. Perhaps we in the Diaspora need a refresher on Israel’s security concerns. It may not be public knowledge, but Israel cannot afford to lose one battle.
After decades of war, neighboring states in confrontation with Israel realized they could not conquer Israel through the conventional methods of military, air and intelligence warfare. Therefore, Israel’s enemies focused on long-range ballistic missiles and terrorism. In formulating Israel’s security doctrine, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion knew that military victory would always be limited and temporary at best due to the enormous size of the Arab world and geographic and population asymmetry in comparison with Israel. Israel’s single defense goal, therefore, is to ensure its preservation, and as such, it cannot afford to lose one single war. In the decades since Israel’s major conventional wars, and with the ongoing phenomenon of hybrid warfare (where a law-abiding army is confronted by non-state actors and guerilla militias that do not abide by the laws of war), and after the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War, the IDF expanded the security doctrine and developed a new concept of preemptive warfare: the Campaign Between Wars (CBW). The strategy’s goals are to delay and deter war by weakening the enemy’s force buildup and capabilities, exposing the enemy’s clandestine military activities and creating optimal conditions for Israel if it should face war.
The CBW strategy has been successful thus far in delaying war as it continues to meet its objectives. However, the threats continue to grow, and with recent escalations, the region is arguably ripe for war. Here is a brief rundown on the challenges Israel currently faces on its five fronts in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula: As most of us know, at the center of all Israel’s perils lies Iran’s desire for hegemonic control of the region and its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Through Iran’s militias supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Iran’s presence is ever-growing in the region and preventing its military entrenchment (and its unrelenting desire for nuclear weapons) has been Israel’s top priority for years. Israel is currently engaged in a shadow war with Iran through its proxies and forces surrounding Israel’s borders and in Gaza. The risk of a multi-front war is very real.
To Israel’s border in the north with Lebanon sits Iranian--backed Hezbollah—arguably the most powerful non-state actor in the world--which has been stockpiling missiles since the last war in 2006. According to Israeli officials, Hezbollah is currently estimated to have as many as 150,000 missiles, many of which are now much more technologically advanced precision-based missiles, which have the capability to be guided to a specific site—like major Israeli cities. Therefore, in recent months, Israel has made its primary focus thwarting the Hezbollah/Iranian precision-guided missile program. According to the aforementioned report by JINSA, Hezbollah now possesses more firepower than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, and more rockets and missiles than all European NATO members combined. Several serious tit-for-tats with Hezbollah over the last couple of weeks have put the country—and region—on edge, as any escalation can very quickly turn into full-scale war. With Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the north threatening to destroy Israel, this time with the capabilities to wage a damaging war, Israel (and the world community) is on high alert.
To Israel’s northeast, the vacuum for power in Syria has enabled Iran’s ascension. Iran has sought to establish offensive drone bases and military posts in Syria near the Israeli border, and it continues to be met with Israel’s zero tolerance policy. Iran has also attempted to build a land corridor linking Iraq to Syria in order to transfer weapons and move its militias, bringing Iraq into the fray. With the CBW strategy, Israel has been both clandestinely and openly destroying Iran’s encroachments.
It’s been five years since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, the war with Hamas in Gaza, and though there has been relative quiet over the years, Israel has been tolerating missiles, incendiary balloons sparking dozens of fires, violent border riots, etc. Every so often, due to rocket attacks into Israel, there are skirmishes between the IDF and Hamas, which can very easily spiral into another war campaign. Other Islamist extremists have also found their way through Egypt to the Gaza strip and are now vying for power against Hamas. Believe it or not, Israel faces the threat of even more extreme groups if Hamas should fall.
In the West Bank, violence is mostly contained, though terror ensues on Israeli citizens always. The Palestinian Authority, led by the weakened Mahmoud Abbas and backed by the militant Fatah, could face off with Hamas (they are at war with each other as well) if Abbas should lose power or die in office. The risk of chaos in the West Bank with Iran looming large is a very real threat to the stability and safety of Israel. There is also a soon—to--be unveiled peace plan created by President Trump, which invariably comes with the prospect of unpredictable responses from the Palestinians. If history tells us anything, these responses are usually violent.
To Israel’s southern-most border with Egypt, in the Sinai Peninsula, there remains an ongoing jihadist insurgency due to Egypt’s weak control of the area after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. This means groups like ISIS and other Islamist militant militias are active, vying for control and fighting Egypt’s security forces right on Israel’s border.
As you can see from this very brief synopsis of the security situation along Israel’s borders, the reality is forbidding. Through the IDF’s strategic “Campaign Between Wars,” they have been mostly successful keeping war at bay, but the reality is that when dealing with irrational actors, it is often very hard to predict tomorrow. So shouldn’t we be spending our time and energy with opinion pieces and press releases on Israel's serious security concerns until that becomes the front page of The New York Times, and not the outrage over two congresswomen? If we don’t spread the knowledge on what Israel’s enemies are up to, who else will? It is our job, as we sit in the safety of the Diaspora, to show the world just what Israel is up against. Without our advocacy, the world’s indifference is deafening.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Young Leadership & Development at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
Recently, I received an early morning phone call from my parents in Europe. While I talk to my parents once a week when they are on vacation, I never receive calls first thing in the morning. I thought to myself that something must be wrong. Making things worse, trying to communicate with my parents was difficult since the phone connection on their cruise was terrible. However, I was able to understand them saying, “Grandpa is in the hospital.” Fortunately, my parents established a better connection and explained my grandfather’s medical situation and that the matter was not an emergency. While not an emergency, at ninety-four, anytime he is in the hospital it’s not small potatoes.
The next few days I was in constant communication with my grandfather, his doctors and my parents. I feel like I got a crash course in medicine, learning about different medications and procedures. Trying to talk with the professionals about the intricacies of his medical situation, and then communicating that information to my parents, often through email, proved to be a challenging, yet doable, task.
After a few days, with his condition still not improving, I decided the best course of action was for me to travel to New York and visit him in the hospital. While packing for my trip, my wife turned around to me and said, “You know, you should write a blog about children and grandchildren who are caregivers for their elderly parents or grandparents. Look at how much time you have spent on the phone over the past few days getting updates on your grandfather’s condition. Can you imagine being a caregiver for a family member day in and day out?”
Consequently, it got me thinking. Who are the millions of people that dedicate their lives to helping their family members in need? Often, caregivers are responsible for helping their family members with mobility issues, cooking meals, shopping, laundry, bathing, companionship and transportation.
Firstly, there about 44 million people who provide unpaid family care to a disabled child, spouse, sibling or parent. Secondly, according to the American Association of Caregiving Youth, there are 1.4 million children between 8 and 18 who are caregivers, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, reports that 10 percent of older Americans in their 60s and 12 percent of seniors in their 70s whose parents are living, serve as caregivers. The number of children and seniors who are caregivers was not a statistic I was expecting to discover. It’s hard to imagine someone who is 8 or 79 serving as a caregiver.
While people often are happy to be caregivers for loved ones, the devotion comes with a price. For instance, there is a financial burden placed upon caregivers who are performing unpaid labor. Sadly, the financial costs run deeper than simply not receiving a paycheck because often caregivers are forced to quit their paying job or reduce their hours. This is problematic because it causes people to have reduced pay, which can have lasting consequences on people’s pensions, Social Security earnings and 401k accounts. Furthermore, when adults serve as caregivers, it can lead to problems for their own health. Research discovered that caregivers, despite going to doctor’s visits with family members, are less likely to take preventive health care measures such regularly monitoring their blood pressure and having mammograms and colonoscopies. For children, the negative effects of being a caregiver can manifest themselves when they conflict with homework, socialization with peers and a student’s ability to concentrate in class.
So now that we know a problem exists for caregivers, how can we provide a fix? As I mentioned in a previous blog, “Paid Family Leave: It Impacts Seniors Too!,” Senator Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced legislation in Congress that would provide people paid leave in the event they have to look after a sick parent. While this would only help people who are temporary caregivers, at least it’s a start. Other ideas include a caregiver tax credit or allowing caregivers to earn a credit towards future Social Security earnings.
Upon reflection, my week of monitoring my grandfather’s medical condition was easy, compared to the countless tasks caregivers are required to perform every day. Fortunately, my grandfather got better and returned home! Unfortunately, all too often, countless children and seniors must assume a caregiver role that requires them to make sacrifices for a loved one. Hopefully, through public awareness and legislative fixes, we can make policy changes that ensure the financial, physical and emotional wellbeing of caregivers of all ages!
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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