A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of one of the most respected members of the Las Vegas Jewish community.
Henry Kronberg was 101 when he passed away. Born in Germany in 1920, Henry would humbly share the story of how he survived the Holocaust (or Shoah, as it’s known in Hebrew) with anyone who asked. He grew up in Poland and was forced to do manual labor for the Gestapo. During the last year of the war, he was sent to three different concentration camps before finally being liberated by the Americans on April 11, 1945.
I heard Henry share his survival account several times. In fact, the last time I saw him was in May, when he met with a group of local Christians to tell his story.
Like many survivors, one of Henry’s concerns was that the memory of what he and millions of other Jewish people endured, and sadly what 6 million Jews did not survive, would not die with the last survivor.
As I sat in the synagogue at Henry’s funeral, that question arose in my own mind: What will happen when those who survived the Holocaust are no longer here to tell their stories?
I would like to suggest that there are four plausible scenarios.
Scenario 1: Denial
I recently read a book by a young Israeli woman who described meeting and growing interested in a young man from Germany. But when the man found out that the woman was from Israel, things grew tense.
Despite the woman’s assurances that “all that happened a long time ago,” referring to the Holocaust the German people had perpetrated on the Jewish people, the young man remained uncomfortable. He then said something that stunned the young Israeli.
“Well, we actually don’t know if it really happened. There are a lot of books that say that it didn’t.”
Although the Israeli woman was shocked, she should not have been. Holocaust denial is alive and well in the world.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism “that emerged after World War II and which uses pseudo-history to deny the reality of the systematic mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their allies during World War II.”
Holocaust deniers, the ADL continues, “claim that Jews fabricated evidence of their own genocide in order to gain sympathy, extract reparations from Germany and facilitate the alleged illegal acquisition of Palestinian land for the creation of Israel.”
And the eyewitness testimonies of those who actually experienced the Holocaust? They are “merely propaganda or lies generated by Jews for their own benefit.”
Today, Holocaust denial is no longer the stuff of fringe White Supremacist publications or conspiracy theorists’ websites. It’s gone mainstream.
Holocaust denial is a concerted, intentional rebellion against documented fact and the eyewitness testimony of victims.
Facebook, for example, is a hotbed of anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denial material. It features groups that seek to “debate” the Holocaust or to “revise” Holocaust history.
Sadly, Facebook, which has no problem censoring The Friends of Israel’s posts concerning crisis pregnancy centers and biblical literature, does not recognize Holocaust denial material as violating its “Community Standards.”
In fact, in a July 2018 interview with Vox, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg actually defended his position on allowing Holocaust denial on his platform. “I’m Jewish,” he said, “and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong…”
Evidence, however, would indicate otherwise. Holocaust denial is a concerted, intentional rebellion against documented fact and the eyewitness testimony of victims. Without the presence of Holocaust survivors, such denial may well proliferate.
Scenario 2: Indifference
Elie Weisel was a Nobel laureate, writer, activist, and professor. He was also a survivor of the Shoah.
One of Weisel’s most chilling statements was his assertion that “[t]he opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Think of it. What is worse than not loving? What is more detrimental than hating? It is indifference to the plight of others (see Luke 10:25–37 for Jesus’ condemnation of such behavior).
Time may heal wounds, but it also can make the human heart calloused to the suffering of others.
As time goes on, events of the past tend to fossilize in our hearts and minds; they become as two-dimensional as the black and white photographs that depict them in our textbooks. We may offer a sigh or a grimace when we see these artifacts, but if they do not affect our hearts—if they do not move us to action—then we have begun the process of seeing without feeling, acquiring knowledge without empathizing. We have grown indifferent.
Such indifference will undoubtedly become more common as time goes on and as survivors of the Shoah pass away. Time may heal wounds, but it also can make the human heart calloused to the suffering of others.
Scenario 3: Exploitation
In March of 2021, K. Grigoriadis, a cartoonist for the Greek daily Efimerida Ton Sintakton, came under fire for his cartoon protesting government reforms. The cartoon featured a gate, much like the one at Auschwitz, over which was written, in Greek, “Studies set you free,” mimicking the Auschwitz gate, which says, “Work sets you free.”
But they aren’t the only ones doing it. Take, for example, a Tweet put out by @VeganFoodRecipe: “Do you know why most survivors of the Holocaust are #vegan? It’s because they know what it’s like to be treated like an animal.” Understandably, the Twitter user received backlash from the Jewish community for the thoughtless statement.
And then there are the politicians. People on both sides of the aisle routinely compare members of the opposing party and their policies to Nazis or Nazi laws. Interestingly, voters are good about calling out such statements when they are coming from the party with which they disagree, but not so much when they come from their own side.
The problem with such comparisons is that they become cliché and devalue the experiences of those who survived the actual Holocaust. They also trivialize the horrors and tragic significance of the Holocaust, because they compare it to current events—some of them very serious events—which, nevertheless, pale in comparison to the systematic extermination of 11 million people.
It can, unfortunately, be expected that such comparisons will continue and only grow more common as time goes on.
Scenario 4: Remembrance
My community is blessed to have several Holocaust survivors still living, still telling their stories. One such person is Benjamin Lesser, who has shared his story with everyone from schoolchildren to Ann Curry, host of PBS’s “We’ll Meet Again.” Wherever he goes, he gives out small pins with a word written in Hebrew: Zachor.
Zachor is the Hebrew word for remember. It is the message that Benjamin, Henry, and other survivors have shouted and continue to shout from the rooftops: Remember! Don’t forget what happened! Don’t forget that it can happen again!
The Jewish community will never forget the Holocaust. How could they? The memory and lessons of the Shoah have not only embedded themselves in the lives of Jewish individuals, families, and communities–they have shaped them.
Thankfully, I believe that many non-Jews, particularly Bible-believing Christians, will make the effort to remember the Holocaust, as well. But it is an effort.
We have to exert ourselves to ensure that our children and our children’s children and generations to come not only understand what happened during that dark period of human history, but are able to learn and apply the lessons of that time as well.
Living in the 21st century provides ample resources to educate ourselves on the history of the Shoah. We have museums, libraries, websites, archives, and volume upon volume of both scholarly research and eyewitness testimonies to draw from.
Denial. Indifference. Exploitation. Remembrance.
These are the responses we can expect to face as the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes away. These are our choices.
As for me and my house, we will take to heart God’s command to Israel to remember—zachor—the past.
“Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren…”