It's a common misconception that antisemitism was rampant during World War II and has been largely dormant since then, until recently. In reality, this could not be farther from the truth. Rather, antisemitism has only been public lately – its ugly undercurrent of hate, violence and conspiracy theories has always been with us.
But this current truth doesn't have to be our future reality. January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps by Soviet troops in 1941. This day is an opportunity for all of us, especially Christians, to stand with the Jewish people and face the memory of one of the worst atrocities in human history. As we face this memory, we can help create a future where antisemitism isn't prolific and largely ignored, but instead eradicated.
For Jewish people, reflecting on the Holocaust is not a choice but a way of life. Every Jewish friend, co-worker, or neighbor has been impacted by the Holocaust — often in deeply personal ways. Antisemitism, both past and present, is difficult to ignore and impossible to forget. But Christians may not experience the daily painful reminders of antisemitism's harm, so forgetting is a very real danger. As Christians, that's why we must make the conscious choice to reflect on it.
To begin this work, we can look to our Jewish neighbors and their deep emphasis on memory. Jewish tradition is memory-oriented — that is clear in passages like Psalm 136, where the psalmist remembers the works of God at creation and in the Exodus, where remembering the past is a way of trusting God with the present. In a very real sense, Jewish tradition is formed by looking at the future through the lens of the past.
This understanding illuminates why the purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is twofold — the commemorative day not only recognizes the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, but it also invites the world into the Jewish practice of looking back in order to move forward. The memory of the Holocaust remains with the Jewish people in their daily lives and collective psyche every time stories of rising antisemitism are in the news, or worse, when they are victims themselves. And it should be at the forefront of our minds every time we notice antisemitism around us, as we remember why we fight against it.
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But the memory of this tragic event is fading as education about the Holocaust is drastically declining. Holocaust education is only required in 20 states. Even more alarming, a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center showed that only 45% of Americans correctly knew that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Followers of Christ have a responsibility to help reverse this educational gap. Remember — Jesus was a Jew. Christianity was born from Judaism. We have shared values, and so our lives and our histories are tied together. We must stand with our Jewish friends by educating ourselves and those around us. We can also build relationships. If you have Jewish friends or co-workers let them know you stand with them. Ask if they'll share their stories, and get to know the richness that makes up Jewish traditions and history.
As Christians, this International Holocaust Remembrance Day presents an opportunity to step into that space with our Jewish neighbors, to feel that hurt with them in empathy and to mourn what has happened, as well as to live with a renewed sense of vigor to push back against antisemitism wherever we find it.
Scott Phillips is the CEO of Passages, a nonprofit organization offering Christian college students a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land.
Why does Judaism matter and how is it connected to Christianity? Learn more here.