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Jennifer Horn: Remembering the Holocaust and preventing another one

April 17. 2018 6:43PM

LAST WEEK, the world paused briefly to remember the Holocaust. Just hours later, a coalition of forces attacked the Syrian regime in retaliation for their use of chemical weapons against its own people. The juxtaposition has been haunting me ever since.

From 1941 to 1945, Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews. 1.6 million Jews were shot, and the remaining were sent in sealed freight cars to “extermination camps” where they were murdered in gas chambers. In total, two-thirds of all European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

The true horror of such a genocide is the ease with which Hitler was able to “normalize” the anti-Semitic policies that led to his “Final Solution.” When he first came to power in 1933, Hitler began to institutionalize anti-Semitism through segregation in state-established ghettos, the introduction of mandatory “Jewish badges,” and the spread of false information such as the belief that Jews were an inferior race attempting to take over the world.

As the assault on Jews under Hitler escalated, other nations had the opportunity to respond, but most declined to do so, including the United States. While we had our own economic and social challenges to confront during the 1930s that was not the only reason. Not to over-simplify history, but anti-Semitism and isolationism were strong influences and our government simply did not feel compelled to respond. Our policies to deny refuge to those fleeing the Holocaust — some of whom had escaped concentration camps only to be sent back when recaptured — remains a stain on our nation’s history and informed our refugee policies until recently.

One would think that such a horror would never leave our collective minds, and yet, a study released last week indicates 11 percent of all Americans, and 22 percent of Millennials, had either never heard of the Holocaust or weren’t sure they had. I don’t understand how any American, of any generation, could make it through 10th grade World History without knowing the horror of the Holocaust. Reading and internalizing the story of Anne Frank remains one of the most impactful experiences of my high school education.

As we watch a new genocide unfold in Syria, it seems clear that the lessons of the Holocaust are lost, not just on a new generation of voters, but on our nation’s leaders as well. Most estimates are that nearly half a million people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. Unenforced red lines under President Obama gave the Assad regime permission to continue to act without repercussion. While I applaud President Trump for leading the response to Assad’s most recent use of chemical weapons against his own people, surgical strikes once a year will not solve this problem and his unwillingness to enact meaningful sanctions against a complicit Russia makes it worse.

It is complex, no doubt, and I don’t presume to know the answer. What I do know, however, is that our own mounting isolationism and nationalism are contributing to a growing genocide for which we will one day bear some responsibility. President Trump simultaneously responded to the chemical attacks while undermining our ability to make an appreciable, humanitarian contribution by limiting Syrian refugees from seeking safe haven in the United States.

In 2016, the U.S. resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees. In 2017 that number dropped to 3,024 and so far in 2018, just 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed into the United States. The belief that refugees bring increased disease and crime rates to a community is just not true; it’s as false and damaging as the untruths spread by Nazis about Jews and it is as much an intentional smear campaign as well.

It is not our job to engage in another nation’s civil war, but we do have a moral obligation to respond to a genocidal attack against humanity. That a new generation of Americans has not been adequately educated on the Holocaust and its cost to humanity is a moral failure on our part, but if we allow the Syrian genocide to continue unabated, it would be a burden on our American soul for generations to come.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

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