On Jan. 27, 1945, Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi’s largest extermination camp.

Seventy-six years later, the Holocaust remains a reminder of the destructive power of hate. It shows the high cost of silence in the face of evil.

More than anything, the memory of the Holocaust asks, who today will push back against the hate? Who will stand for the voiceless, the oppressed and the brutalized?

Faced with those questions in the 1930s, too many Germans chose to stay silent. By the time they saw the need to speak up, it was too late.

In the U.S., consumed at the time by the Great Depression, the persecution of Jews under Adolf Hitler was largely ignored. Later, Jewish refugees were turned away by the thousands, even as it was clear the fate they faced back in Europe.

The images that later came out of the newly liberated camps showed why that was such a mistake. Millions of people had been systematically murdered because of who they were.

Trading on age-old conspiracy theories and prejudice, the Nazis turned its population against vulnerable minorities, centrally those of the Jewish faith. In just a few short years, millions of souls and everything they wanted in this world was snuffed out.

The horror was so great, it coined a phrase: “Never again.”

Yet here we are, three-quarters of a century later, with the fires of hate still burning.

White supremacy is a growing force in American politics, fueled by many of the same conspiracies that motivated the Nazis. Protesters at a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Later, an avowed white supremacist deliberately ran over and killed a counter-protester.

As supporters of President Trump stormed the Capitol Jan. 6, one person could be seen wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt; it was being sold on the mainstream platform Etsy. At other rallies, the phrase “6MNE” has been seen — short for “6 million was not enough,” a reference to the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Overall, hate crimes are at the highest they’ve been in a decade. There were 51 recorded hate-crime murders in 2019, including 22 at a Walmart in Texas where Mexicans were targeted.

There have also been in recent years frequent attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York, largely from non-whites who believe in various anti-Semitic conspiracies.

In China, in a scene that looks all too familiar, the government is holding members of its Muslim minority in detention camps. In Myanmar, the Rohingya minority have been forced to flee through persecution and violence.

Closer to home, police in southern Maine are investigating hate mail sent to residents who flew a Pride flag or supported Black Lives Matter. KKK fliers have been found in several Maine communities over the last several years.

The perpetrators of persecution and violence have different backgrounds, cultures and political leanings. The acts are done for different goals and at different scales.

But the hate is shockingly similar. It stigmatizes differences. It feeds on fear and ignorance.

And when left unchallenged, hate draws people in.

Those with a different message have an obligation to speak up and take action.

The Holocaust tells us that, if we wait, it very well could be too late.

 


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