Can we still promise to ‘Never Forget’?

As the student-led #NeverAgain gun-control movement continues to build momentum — causing companies to sever public ties with the National Rifle Association and politicians to, hopefully, rethink their slavish support of the gun manufacturing lobby over the majority of Americans who support common sense gun control — we are reminded of another, pre-Internet movement that encouraged the world to “Never Forget.”

Like #NeverAgain, “Never Forget” grew from a first-hand glimpse of horror and death. For the #NeverAgain students, it was watching their classmates die inside high school hallways and classrooms. For the Never Forget activists, it was the almost unfathomable terror of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” the Holocaust, which killed more than one-third of the world’s Jewish people.

In his 1986 Nobel Prize speech, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel quoted historian Simon Dubnow, who had begged his fellow Holocaust survivors to “write it all down” and never forget the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

“Countless victims became chroniclers and historians in the ghettos, even in the death camps,” Wiesel said. “They left behind extraordinary documents. To testify became an obsession.”

And for many decades, the world has vowed to read those accounts, to retell the story so that we will Never Forget the Holocaust — and how an entire nation could have fallen for the Nazi Party’s anti-Jewish propaganda.

The world has vowed to “Never Forget” for 70 years. But now, as the World War II generation disappears and political leaders on the far-right continue to stir anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fears, it seems many have already forgotten.

In fact, violent white supremacist groups are on the rise these days. According to a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League, of the 34 people killed by extremists in the U.S. last year, nearly 60 percent were murdered by right-wing extremists, including white supremacists and members of the “alt-right.”

White supremacist murders in this country skyrocketed in 2017, increasing 157 percent over 2016. Two weeks ago, the Seattle Times reported on a recent investigation by the nonprofit journalism group ProPublica that showed Washington State is home to one of the largest chapters of the extremely violent neo-Nazi Atomwaffen group, which has been linked to at least five recent homicides.

According to the ProPublica report: “In the Pacific Northwest, cell members had converged on an abandoned cement factory, known as ‘Devil’s Tower’ near the small town of Concrete, Washington, where they had screamed ‘gas the kikes, race war now!’ while firing off round after round from any array of weapons, including an AR-15 assault rifle with a high capacity drum magazine.”

For anyone who has ever studied the Holocaust and the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Party, the sudden leap in white supremacist violence in this country should be sounding the loudest alarm bells we have. If we are to “Never Forget,” we need to immerse ourselves in the events leading up to the Holocaust and keep an eye out for similar red flags, including the rise of “white nationalists” and far-right extremists.

The Camas Library is hosting a series of events related to Holocaust remembrance. The first, a talk by Matthew Erlich, the son of an Auschwitz survivor and member of the Speakers Bureau of the Holocaust Center for Humanity, will take place at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 12, at the Camas Library.

The second event is a Holocaust Studies series presented by retired Camas High School teacher Hannelore Tweed, which will cover topics such as Hitler’s rise to power, Nazi racism, Jewish life before the Holocaust, concentration camps and Germany’s reparations in 2018. The presentations take place at 1 p.m. every Friday, beginning on March 16 and ending on April 27, also at the Camas Library.

If you cannot attend, we urge you to educate yourself about the rise of the Nazis and about what is happening today regarding the rise of white supremacist groups in the U.S. A few good resources include: The Holocaust Explained at www.theholocaustexplained.org; ProPublica’s recent investigation on the Atomwaffen group at www.propublica.org; and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on hate groups inside the U.S. at www.splcenter.org.