Friday, April 16, 2021

(Courtesy of Claims Conference) Gideon Taylor, president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) has announced a new Holocaust survivor-led, digital campaign, #ItStartedWithWords.

Before local anti-Jewish laws were enacted, before neighborhood shops and synagogues were destroyed, and before Jews were forced into ghettos, cattle cars and camps, words were used to stoke the fire of hate. #ItStartedWithWords is a digital Holocaust education campaign posting weekly videos of survivors from across the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust—a period of time when they could not have predicted the ease with which one of their longtime neighbors, teachers, classmates or colleagues would turn on them, transitioning from words of hate to acts of violence.

“The Holocaust started with words,” said Taylor. “Hateful words that were yelled in the park, spat on the street, and roared in the classroom. These words alienated, belittled and shocked; but worse, these words gave birth to the horrific massacre of six million Jews. The #ItStartedWithWords campaign will show through firsthand survivor testimony that the horrific outcomes of the Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere. It literally started with words.”

Coming on the heels of the successful #NoDenyingIt campaign, the #ItStartedWithWords initiative is part of a broader effort to raise awareness of the importance of Holocaust education. Specifically, this campaign will use survivor testimony to give context to the origins of the Holocaust, the foundation of the anti-Semitism that Hitler and the Nazis used to generate support across Europe before a single act of war was undertaken. The goal of the campaign is to show how words of hate can become actions, and how those actions can have the unimaginable outcomes.

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference said: “You don’t wake up one morning deciding to participate in mass murder. Hate speech, propaganda, anti-Semitism and racism were the roots that culminated in genocide. The shocking results of our 2020 U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, which found that 63 percent of Millennials and Gen Z did not know six million Jews were murdered, clarifies for us how important it is, not just to teach the history of the Holocaust, but to provide context for how such a horrific outcome like the Holocaust started.”

Several well-known Holocaust survivors from around the world recorded videos to be posted for the campaign.

Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, born in Poland in 1940, now lives in the U.S. In his campaign video post he shared his thoughts on the origins of the Holocaust, saying, “The crematoria, gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere did not begin with bricks, it began with words … evil words, hateful words, anti-Semitic words, words of prejudice. And they were permitted to proceed to violence because of the absence of words.”

Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, born in Poland in 1937, now lives in Israel. His hometown of Piotrkow Trybunalski had more than 10,000 Jews before the war, but most were deported to Treblinka in 1942 and killed. “They thought they could eliminate a people with words,” he said in his video post. “And then it turned out that it indeed happened.”

#ItStartedWithWords illustrates how racist and anti-Semitic speech led to actions that nearly saw the mass extermination of an entire people. To provide educational resources from partner museums and institutions, as well as the collection of the survivor videos from the campaign, the Claims Conference has also launched ItStartedWithWords.org, a website that will serve as a resource for educators around the world.

Supporting this campaign are more than 20 museums and institutions from across the United States and around the world, including: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM); Yad Vashem; the Anne Frank House – Netherlands and Berlin; the Anne Frank Center – Argentina; The Montreal Holocaust Museum; Holocaust Educational Trust of the UK; The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust; Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; The Museum of Jewish Heritage, and many more.