CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, members of Champaign-Urbana’s Jewish community urged people to never forget what happened, so “never again” can be a reality.
Hillel at the University of Illinois hosted a virtual program during which three local community members shared their families’ stories of survival during the Holocaust.
Nina Raab, a UIUC student, recalled her grandparents’ stories, and shared her grandfather’s warning about dictators:
“If someone speaks something and they have power, you must believe them,” she recalled “He said Jews didn’t believe – they couldn’t – they didn’t think anything would happen. But he did. He knew if someone with powers has this type of rhetoric and they have the capability, then they will do it.”
Ultimately, Hitler’s Nazi regime murdered 6 million Jews and 5 million Roma and Sinti people as well LGBTQ people, the disabled and political dissidents.
The goal of the observance was to show a living connection to the stories of the Holocaust, as new surveys show nearly a quarter of young adults believe the Holocaust didn’t happen or was exaggerated, despite its documentation.
High school freshman Max Libman also spoke Wednesday afternoon. Last year, he shared two films about his great-grandmother’s experience, and is working to educate his generation about the atrocities of the Holocaust.
“I feel a responsibility to tell her story,” Libman said. “We must remember the past so history will not repeat itself. Never again. We must know the stages leading up to the Holocaust. Education is so important. We need people to be able to notice the signs, so they can stop it before it gets worse. As we have seen, the Holocaust does not start with mass murder. It starts with name calling, separating groups and the rise of hate.”
The same week that people worldwide observed the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, community members were once again on edge in Champaign after neo-Nazi stickers were found.
“It’s very difficult to see these stickers around town,” Hillel director Erez Cohen said. “But we must always remember that our community is a lot larger than one or two people that are trying to spread hate around town.”
Champaign County Recorder Mike Ingram posted a picture of the sticker on Facebook, and urged community members to let him know if they spotted more so he could help remove them.
“Unfortunately, they’re persistent,” he said. “So you just have to be persistent in fighting them.”
He said it was frustrating to see such insidious and hateful stickers and signs popping up almost routinely.
“You would think that we would be past that point,” Ingram said. “Unfortunately, human nature doesn’t really allow it. You know, we still have Holocaust deniers – that is still a subset of people that exists, which is ridiculous. I’ve stood at Dachau in Germany… it’s strange to me that this is a thing.”
Ingram warned those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.
Likewise, CU Jewish Federation Executive Director Linda Bauer, who was born in a displaced persons camp after World War II, said, “we need to recognize hate and persecution continues, even in America.”
Congresswoman Mary Miller, Congressman Rodney Davis and State Senator Scott Bennett all attended the observance. Just a few weeks earlier, Miller quoted Hitler at a “Moms for America” rally in Washington, D.C., saying, “Hitler was right on one thing. He said whoever has the youth has the future.”
She later apologized after swift condemnation of her remarks from members of both parties.
Cohen said that incident was a factor in why he invited elected officials to join the observance on Wednesday.
“It made us realize that we should be doing a better job in reaching out to elected officials and sharing our history and our values with them,” Cohen said.
He was pleased to see Miller decided to attend the event.
“It shows me that there is true interest in learning about the Holocaust and understanding the suffering that Jewish people, LGBTQ people, Roma and Sinti people have suffered through,” Cohen explained. “I see this as a step forward in people in our communities trying to understand each other a little bit better.”
The Hillel director stressed the importance of Holocaust education not just on days of remembrance, but throughout the year, and urged anyone who wants to learn more to reach out to him to learn about Hillel’s own programming and other available resources.