International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Survivor Warns Western Leaders Have Adopted 'Hate' As 'Their Slogan'

World leaders will this week pay tribute to the millions who were murdered in the Second World War-era Nazi Holocaust. Monday marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland, a day that now serves as the official Holocaust Memorial Day.

But the world's collective vow of "never again" has not rung true in the decades since the "Final Solution" and the subsequent Nuremberg trials. While politicians—particularly in the West—have publicly railed against anti-Semitism, nationalist and xenephobhic rhetoric has encouraged fresh genocides and the resurgence of anti-Jewish groups and sentiment.

And according to one Holocaust survivor, hate has become the "slogan" of prominent leaders and is undermining the work of all those who seek to banish genocide to the history books.

Sidney Zoltak was born in the town of Siemiatycze in northeastern Poland in 1931. The settlement was taken over by the Soviet Union in 1939 and passed to Nazi control in June 1941 as Adolf Hitler's troops stormed east. Zoltak and his family were forced into a ghetto in 1942, which was liquidated months later.

Zoltak and his family were able to escape the liquidation and were hidden by sympathetic locals until the end of the war. They had to change location every few months to avoid detection, but managed to survive.

After the war, the family returned to Siemiatycze. After Sidney's father died in 1945, the family relocated to Italy and then in 1948 to Canada, where Sidney still lives today.

Zoltak, now 89, told Newsweek that divisive and nativist politics win votes but risk facilitating fresh crimes. "I can probably name quite a few that I would call hypocrites," he said of world leaders marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this week.

"They would preach to the world one thing and go back home and do terrible things at home. It is to their advantage, because that is what the people want. And the more hate they spread, the more votes they're going to get. Hate is their slogan. They don't call it hate, they call it whatever else, but definitely it is.

"The more hate you spread, the more atrocities you're going to have all over. There is no limit with what you can do with hate," Zoltak said.

In the U.S., for example, Zoltak said, "The head of the present administration is very close to some of those racists that are roaming freely and having demonstrations in the country."

President Donald Trump has been accused of encouraging white supremacist behavior, and members of his inner circle—including Stephen Miller, who is Jewish—have been accused of harboring racist ideology.

"They're out there and visible," Zoltak said of America's neo-Nazis and white supremacists, noting that freedom of speech allows them to avoid restrictions. "For people like me, it's painful."

Though Zoltak did not wish to name any specific leaders, he noted that the nationalist government in his native country of Poland is taking a "revisionist" stance on the Holocaust.

The Polish government has made it a criminal offense to attribute any responsibility for the Holocaust to Poland or the Polish people. Historians have criticized the legislation and pointed out that there were some instances of anti-Semitic behavior and massacres by Polish people during and after the German invasion.

Zoltak said Polish lawmakers are trying to "rewrite the the history books." During the German occupation, he said he was "afraid also of some of the Poles. And the Poles did not collaborate with the Germans—they were not working together in order to kill Jews. But did killing of the Jews themselves because of anti-Semitism.

"I'm a witness… I was a victim of that kind of action," Zoltak said. "And now they tell me I'm not allowed to say that." He noted that Poland is but one of the countries that have failed to properly acknowledge its role in "making it easier" for the Nazis to commit their crimes.

Zoltak now dedicates time to sharing his experience of the Holocaust with school children, providing them with a personal link to the tragedy—something that is increasingly rare. This week, for example, he is heading to Italy to speak with school children about his life and work.

He argued that education is the only solution. People everywhere must be fully aware of the Holocaust and how it came about, while those responsible for that or other genocides must be punished.

"We were not that forceful to convince the world that hate is a terrible thing," he said of the post-war prosecutions of war criminals from the Axis nations.

Some—for example scientists and engineers brought to the U.S. in Operation Paperclip or the former Nazi officials handed powerful positions in post-war West Germany—were even given passes on their crimes in exchange for their skills and experience.

Education is the only way to break the indifference that allows genocides to this day, Zoltak argued. Hate "is spread all over the world now," he said, "and is certainly not doing it any good."

"Indifference played a very big part in what happened," he explained. Modern technology has connected the world to a degree that would have been unthinkable in the 1930s, and for Zoltak that means people have no excuse for not knowing of the atrocities going on elsewhere.

"But people are still indifferent," he said. "If it doesn't touch them personally at home, then they don't do very much about it… And that is a problem that I think should be emphasized in talking about something as horrible as happened in the 20th century."

Holocaust, Sidney Zoltak, survivor, Nazis, hate, West
A delegation of survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp and their families depart after laying wreaths at the execution wall at the former Auschwitz I site on January 27, 2020 in Oswiecim, Poland. Sean Gallup/Getty Images/Getty