It Could Happen Again: Holocaust Survivors on Why Americans Must Confront Hate

8-28-17 USHMM video screenshot
Holocaust survivors remind Americans why they must stand up to hate in a video from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, posted less than two weeks after the events in Charlottesville. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/YouTube

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum joined in the chorus of voices condemning the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month, decrying the neo-Nazi, racist and antisemitic symbols and language it observed at the white nationalist rallies. Following the unnerving events, the museum turned to the subject it knows best to warn participants and onlookers about where such demonstrations of hate can lead.

"Holocaust history teaches that the targeting of Jews was central to Nazi racist ideology and that it began with hateful rhetoric," the museum said in a statement released on August 13. "By the end of World War II, the Germans and their collaborators had murdered six million Jews and millions of other innocent civilians, many of whom were also targeted for racial reasons."

Ten days after issuing the statement, the museum posted a video on its YouTube page featuring Holocaust survivors who volunteer there. In the video, they recall their experiences of the horrors that resulted from hate and urge people to act in the face of evil.

"Holocaust survivors remind us of the dangers of unchecked hate" appears in white block letters against a black screen at the opening of the 90-second video.

The video then cuts back and forth among a handful of survivors who start by telling snippets of their own experiences: "All the Jews were deported"; "we were sent away to a slave camp"; "I went into hiding"; "not knowing from one minute to another if we were going to live another day"; "the tremendous pain caused by the Holocaust"; "32 of my family members who were killed and murdered by the Nazis…most of them starved to death or gassed to death."

The video continues in the same style—switching frequently among speakers, each of whom says only part of a sentence before another survivor appears in the frame—as it shifts to the issue of hate today.

They say: "My message to the future is"; "know what the world was like and that it can happen again"; "don't take your freedom, your liberty for granted, guard it"; "never become collaborators or bystanders or onlookers again"; "you can stand up to tyranny"; "be more tolerant of other people"; "you should not stand by and say, 'I cannot do anything about it,' because you can"; "know that it is possible for people to stand up and do the right thing, even when they are surrounded by evil."

The video does not explicitly mention the events in Charlottesville, where white nationalists and neo-Nazis carried torches and Nazi flags emblazoned with swastikas and chanted words like, "Jews will not replace us," and where a driver plowed into demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Still, it hardly seems like a coincidence that the video was published in the immediate aftermath of the alarming demonstrations of hate and violence in Virginia.

"In today's turbulent times, Holocaust survivors can be our best teachers," the museum wrote in its description of the video message. The survivors "challenge us to take responsibility in the face of hate."