US and Germany announce partnership to combat Holocaust denial

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The United States and Germany have announced a partnership to combat Holocaust denial and provide resources on the subject to other nations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday declared a new partnership between the United States and Germany to combat Holocaust denial during a visit to Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, where hundreds of concrete slabs commemorating the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust stand on display.

Both Blinken, the stepson of a Holocaust survivor who escaped both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, and his German counterpart, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, stressed the timeliness of the issue, pointing to current events that echoed past tragedies.

"Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism often go hand in hand with homophobia, xenophobia, racism, other hatred," Blinken said, according to the Associated Press. "It's also a rallying cry for those who seek to tear down our democracies, which we’ve seen in both our countries, often a precursor to violence."

Blinken has addressed the issue in the past, saying during a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech back in January, "It's so important that we speak the truth about the past, to protect the facts when others try to distort or trivialize Holocaust crimes, and to seek justice for the survivors and their families."

Germany has seen an alarming resurgence in antisemitism in recent years, personifying a trend that has swept most of Europe. In 2019, the country's Jewish community was shaken after a neo-Nazi stormed a synagogue during Yom Kippur and killed two people.

Antisemitism has risen elsewhere across the globe. In 2020, the head of Germany’s domestic security service warned of a significant increase in the threat to German Jews. And during the pandemic, anti-lockdown protesters began wearing yellow Stars of David, the same symbol Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II, an antisemitic gesture by those bucking COVID restrictions.

Similar demonstrations took place in the United States, with some protesting COVID vaccines and mask-wearing by donning the yellow star patches as well.

"In recent years, we have seen antisemitism and racism eating into our society," Maas said Thursday, according to the Associated Press. "Just think of the Yellow Star badge as seen at demonstrations against COVID measures, of the torrent of antisemitic conspiracy theories on the Internet, of the attacks on synagogues and on Jewish people living in our countries, of the rioters in front of the Bundestag or the rampaging mob in the U.S. capital.”

The crisis is not contained to Europe — in the United States, Holocaust denial, distortion and ignorance is at an all-time high.

In a September survey of millennials and Gen Zers, conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, more than 60% of respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, while a third thought that the death toll was 2 million or less. Half of those surveyed could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto and a tenth of respondents believed Jews caused the Holocaust.

The problem is especially rampant among the far right, which has utilized social media to push false information at breakneck speed. In October, Facebook was finally forced to ban posts that deny or distort the Holocaust, following a pressure campaign from survivors.

The Anti-Defamation League in 2020 also recorded a 10% increase in acts of assault, vandalism, and harassment against Jews from the previous year. That made 2020 the third highest year for incidents against American Jews since the ADL first began collecting data in 1979.

The partnership between the United States and Germany aims to create educational materials and trainings for other governments to combat Holocaust denial with consultation from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Berlin-based Holocaust foundation.

The leaders said the partnership comes at a crucial time, as the last generation of living Holocaust survivors dwindles — first-person narratives have long been an integral feature of U.S. Holocaust education.

"By launching this bilateral consultation, and by raising public awareness about anti-Semitism and the hatred of 'the other' that paved the way for the horrific crimes of the Holocaust, we can stand together as Transatlantic partners to ensure such atrocities never again occur," the U.S. State Department said in a statement after Thursday's event.

Correction: This story was updated to correctly attribute some of Blinken's remarks to an earlier speech.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.