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#ItStartedWithWords: Holocaust survivors use social media to fight anti-Semitism

Last Updated Apr 11, 2021 at 1:28 pm MDT

Summary

New campaign #ItStartedWithWords focuses on fighting rise of anti-Semitism during the pandemic


Campaign also works to educate young people about the Holocaust


OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — A new campaign has launched to educate young people about the Holocaust and fight the increase of anti-Semitic incidents during the pandemic.

Anti-Semitic incidents have risen across Canada during the pandemic, with some Canadians comparing COVID-19 lockdowns to the Holocaust.

So, a program called #ItStartedWithWords is making its way across the web to educate young people about the horrors of the Second World War.

Short video messages from campaign participants recount their stories in hopes to educate people about how the Nazis embarked on an insidious campaign to dehumanize and marginalize Jews — years before death camps were established to carry out murder on an industrial scale.

Six individual videos and a compilation were being released Thursday over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, followed by one video per week. The posts include a link to a webpage with more testimonies and teaching materials.

 

Rabbi Joshua Berkowicz learned about the Holocaust through his family. His grandparents on his mother’s side survived, while his grandparents on his father’s side hid in the Pyrenees Mountains while Jews were being rounded up.

“What I learned from my family is that it’s a generational trauma that we’re just starting to get around the corner of it a little bit,” he said.

Berkowicz says education is paramount to overcome the misguided comparisons between the Holocaust and lockdown and COVID-19 restriction that are sometimes made by protesters.

On Twitter, Ontario MP Randy Hillier shared an image of Adolf Hitler when referring to the lockdown.

“The Third ….wave. Everyone who has ever been to the sea, knows there is no end to waves. Its only 28 days this time. Truth does not mind being questioned. Lies do not like to be challenged,” Hillier’s tweet reads.

In Calgary, some anti-lockdown protesters even wore the Star of David around their necks.

Holocaust survivor Abe Hoxman says the evils unleashed on the Jewish community began with words, not actions.

“It did not begin with bricks. It began with words,” said Hoxman.

The Montreal Holocaust Museum is working on a program to include Holocaust training for school teachers.

Sarah Fogg, who works at the museum, says they’ve certainly noticed the “very offensive comparisons made to the pandemic and the Holocaust.”

“These comparisons are just obviously offensive and hurtful and deeply problematic, but they also really demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge of what the Holocaust actually was,” said Fogg.

“Holocaust education has a profound impact on young people. They’re more likely to be tolerant, to be critical of misinformation and to stand up when faced with intolerance and discrimination.”

Overall, the goal of the #ItStartedWithWords campaign is to educate young people so they don’t get misinformed by anti-Semitic posts.

While anti-Semitism continues to rear its head, both in Canada and abroad, Berkowicz agrees education is paramount to avoid repeating history.

“It’s very easy to just slip back into the way things were 70 years ago, 50 years ago, and that happens with language. It starts with the way people speak.”

In a 50 U.S.state study of Millennials and Generation Z-age people in the U.S. last year, researchers found that 63 per cent of respondents did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and 48 per cent could not name a single death camp or concentration camp.

The #ItStartedWithWords campaign, launched to coincide with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, was organized by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, which negotiates compensation for victims. It is backed by many organizations, including the United Nations.

It comes as a study released last week by Israeli researchers found that coronavirus lockdowns last year shifted some anti-Semitic hatred online, where conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the pandemic’s medical and economic devastation abounded.

Although the annual report by Tel Aviv University’s researchers on anti-Semitism showed that the social isolation of the pandemic resulted in fewer acts of violence against Jews across 40 countries, Jewish leaders expressed concern that online vitriol could lead to physical attacks when the lockdowns end.