May 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Holocaust survivors take on deniers in new ads

Holocaust survivors  Abe Foxman and Tova Friedman are shown side-by-side as they read Holocaust denial social media posts.

Holocaust survivors Abe Foxman and Tova Friedman are side-by-side as they read Holocaust denial social media posts in a new video campaign targeting antisemitism. Photo: Courtesy of Claims Conference

A new ad campaign that targets antisemitism and disinformation online features Holocaust survivors who are visibly shaken as they read a series of social media posts denying the massacre of Jews.

Why it matters: The online videos arrive at a time when antisemitic incidents in the U.S. surged last year amid the Israel-Hamas war — and as pro-Palestinian protests on some college campuses have left some Jewish students feeling threatened and harassed.

The big picture: Advocates are racing to counter Holocaust deniers and hate speech against Jews by having those in the fading generation of Holocaust survivors share their experiences as witnesses to Adolf Hitler's genocide of European Jews before and during World War II.

  • Fewer than a quarter-million survivors remain; they were children during the Holocaust.

Zoom in: The new campaign, which launches today, is called #CancelHate and is backed by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference.

  • In the ads the Holocaust survivors introduce themselves and are unnerved as they read the Holocaust-denying posts.
  • They then talk about their own experiences during the Holocaust.
  • Every video ends with the tagline, "Words matter. Cancel hate."

Between the lines: Recent studies of millennials and Generation Z members in the U.S. — those roughly ages 12 to 43 — have suggested that about half have seen social media posts or other online items denying or distorting the Holocaust.

  • A Claims Conference survey in 2018 found that many adults, especially millennials, don't know about some of the critical events in the Holocaust.

What they're saying: "This is important because there is a lot of crazy stuff out there, like people saying there were swimming pools at Auschwitz," said Tova Friedman, 86, a Holocaust survivor who was sent to Auschwitz as a child.

  • "This wasn't a vacation. This was horror."
  • Ralph Rehbock, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in Illinois, tells Axios he doesn't believe he'll change the minds of any Holocaust deniers — but believes he can reach people who may have read their words.
  • "Maybe they won't join the deniers after they understand what actually happened," he said.

Zoom out: Abe Foxman, 84, a Holocaust survivor who lost 13 members of his immediate family in the Holocaust, tells Axios that tech companies should be held accountable for Holocaust-denying posts on social media.

  • Until then, Foxman said he must speak out and address the posts head-on.
  • "Holocaust denial to survivors is a personal assault. Denying that the Holocaust happened is like killing the Jews a second time," said Foxman, who's in one of the first videos released.

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said in a statement he'd never would have imagined that Holocaust survivors would have to confront the current wave of Holocaust denial.

  • "Those who read these depraved posts are putting aside their own discomfort and trauma to ensure that current and future generations understand that unchecked hatred has no place in society," he said.

What's next: Videos of Holocaust survivors around the world will be posted on Facebook, Instagram, X, and the conference's website every day for the month-long campaign.

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