With each passing year, the number of Holocaust survivors left to tell their story diminishes. It is likely that within 25 years, none will remain. That’s why it’s up to us all to preserve their memory; to ensure that the horrors of the past will never be repeated.
In 2017, we initiated the first ever global #WeRemember campaign for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It asks people around the world to complete an easy, yet meaningful, task. Write the words “We Remember” on a sheet of paper; take a picture of yourself holding the sign; and post it to social media with the hashtag #WeRemember. We hoped that – even if just for just a moment – this would encourage people stop and reflect.
Our initial goal was to reach a symbolic 16 million people – the world’s Jewish population before the Holocaust. But, to our surprise, over the past two years, we have touched nearly 1 billion people in more than 100 countries. Using social media, we have fostered a community of people who have a common goal: stand up to hate.
Social media platforms like Twitter have succeeded in bringing the world together in ways previous generations could never have imagined. Advances in technology have fundamentally altered the way that we consume information. Moreover, the Internet has lent a voice to those who were once voiceless. Having been born in the former Soviet Union, it astonishes me that the average citizen can now respond to a Tweet from his or her country’s leader knowing that there is a real chance it will be seen.
The Internet is vast, and while it has connected the world and enhances our lives in so many ways, it has also exposed some dark realities. White supremacists and antisemites are now afforded access to the same platforms as the influencers that billions of young people look to for the latest in fashion and pop culture trends.
Although these are serious online threats, they pale in comparison to the threats that Jewish communities around the world face to their physical security from ideological extremists. In the past few years alone, there have been violent attacks against Jews in France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Denmark, and the United States, to name just a few. The recent attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which claimed the lives of 11 people, is just the latest example of how radicalism and ignorance can have a tragic impact.
Much of this rise in antisemitism can be attributed to a decline in or complete lack of Holocaust education in schools. We must find new ways to reach young people so they will be able to learn the lessons of history’s greatest tragedy. Educational seminars and remembrance events are no longer enough. Shockingly, nearly a third of all Americans and more than 4-in-10 Millennials believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust. Even more troubling, there were more than 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos during the Holocaust and almost half of Americans (45 percent) cannot name a single one.
Through our #WeRemember campaign and www.AboutHolocaust.org, created in partnership with UNESCO, we are taking steps toward filling the glaring hole in Holocaust education around the world.
A key component of the campaign is the sharing of personal stories of Holocaust survivors. Today, thanks to Twitter, we will be holding an event @TwitterNYC to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. We will hear from Toby Levy, a courageous woman who survived the Holocaust in hiding thanks to the kindness of an average citizen who stood up to the Nazis’ hate. We are committed to ensuring that lessons of Toby’s story are not lost to history.
Twitter Director of Policy & Philanthropy in the US and Canada Carlos Monje highlighted Twitter’s commitment to commemorating this important partnership, “Partnering with World Jewish Congress on the #WeRemember campaign helps us to underscore the power of Twitter in sharing the lessons of the Holocaust to fight xenophobia, genocide, and all forms of discrimination. We have an important role to amplify counternarratives to hate.”
The World Jewish Congress believes it is up to social media users around the globe to set the tone. As a society, we emphasize that there must be a zero-tolerance policy against hate speech. Like the countries we live in, the Internet is a democracy. If we speak out together, we can’t be ignored.