International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust and marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz, where more than 1 million innocents were murdered, including an estimated 960,000 Jews.
The liberation of Auschwitz led to the first real awareness of the true barbarity of the Nazi regime and the death industry it created in an attempt to rid Europe of Jews and other “undesirables.”
January 27 was a date set aside by the United Nations to ensure that the world is constantly reminded of the consequences of unchecked hatred and of the imperative of “Never Again.”
The United States, the democratic superpower that helped lead the fight to bring about the end of the Nazi regime, must continue to play a strong leadership role around the world in preventing genocide. Congress should ensure that the U.S. government remains committed to keeping its eye on the ball.
As we honor Holocaust Remembrance Day this Saturday, here are five action items for Congress to move forward immediately this year to combat anti-Semitism, fight hate crimes, and prevent another genocide:
More than a year has passed without the appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a congressionally mandated position.
And over half a year has passed since more than 100 members of Congress wrote twice to the administration to urge the timely appointment of an envoy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed not to eliminate the position, but it, regrettably, still remains vacant.
Since those congressional letters, Jewish places of worship in Swedenand Tunisia have been firebombed. A Jewish family in the West Bank was murdered in their home by an assailant who, just days earlier, had railed against Jews as “pigs and monkeys.” Members of a Jewish family in France were tied up and beaten in their own home by robbers who explained that “you are Jewish, you have money.” A hostel in Poland posted a sign warning customers that entry was “forbidden to Jews, Commies, and all thieves and traitors to Poland.” An exhibit in Tunisia on the Holocaust was vandalized by protesters who openly rejected the truth about the Nazis’ acts of genocide.
The need for this office is real. The task of the Special Envoy is to pressure foreign governments to address such incidents, and anti-Semitism in general. And the legislation ensures that the envoy maintains direct access to the secretary of state, access which otherwise is scheduled to be curtailed under the State Department’s reorganization plan.
2. Members of Congress should cosponsor bills in the House and Senate to address the consequences of anti-Semitism in Europe.
The Combating European Anti-Semitism Act has already passed the House and now must move forward in the Senate. Similarly, the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act recently passed the Senatebut now must move forward in the House.
The first bill will ensure that the State Department pays closer attention to threats against Jewish people and institutions in Europe. The second bill directs state to report on the fulfillment of European governments’ pledges to restitute property seized from Jews during the Holocaust.
3. Support the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Holocaust education programs.
The United States’ commitment to Holocaust education has been extraordinary. Since its dedication in 1993, more than 40 million people have visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Mall. The museum’s website is an extraordinary resource for students and scholars of the Holocaust. And ADL also has a broad array of Holocaust education resources, designed to provide insights needed to help understand the past and influence the future.
However, we need to ensure that comprehensive Holocaust education is taking place in every secondary school across the country. As Congress considers reauthorization of the Higher Education Act later this year, we urge members to support anti-bias education and Holocaust education funding initiatives that support both our students and the ongoing professional development of their teachers.
4. Encourage improved hate crime reporting to the FBI.
The FBI has been collecting data on hate crime since 1990. It’s disturbing that every single year and without fail, Jews have been between 50 and 80 percent of the religion-based crimes reported to the bureau. Although the annual FBI report is the most important national snapshot of hate, it is incomplete. The Justice Department should provide training and incentivize and encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to more comprehensively collect and report hate crimes data to the FBI, with special attention devoted to the 90 cities over 100,000 in population that either have not participated in the HCSA program at all or have incorrectly reported zero hate crimes.
5. The United States should demonstrate that the lessons of the Holocaust were truly learned by acting against any potential new genocide.
The Anti-Defamation League and a broad coalition of other Jewish organizations have urged Congress to pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act. This bill requires the U.S. government to take a range of common-sense and constructive measures to address the horrific ethnic cleansing of over half a million Rohingya Muslim people by Burmese armed forces and gangs.
In the same spirit, members of Congress should urge the administration not to cancel the Temporary Protected Status of 6,900 of Syrians in America on January 30. These innocent people fled the butchery in Syria and could likely face retribution, barrel bombs, or even chemical weapons if forced to go back. As the State Department recently reiterated, “no part of Syria is safe from violence.”
Legislation alone will not end anti-Semitism, stop hate crimes, or prevent genocide, but Congress can contribute significantly to these goals.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day should be a day of action as well as reflection, and we should all consider what we can do to honor the memories of the victims of the Holocaust and fulfill the promise of “Never Again.”