At time of rising antisemitism, Holocaust survivors take on denial and hate in new digital campaign (2024)

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Herbert Rubinstein was 5 years old when he and his mother where taken from the Jewish ghetto of Chernivtsi and put on a cramped cattle wagon waiting to take them to their deaths. It was 1941, and Romanians collaborating with Germany’s Nazis were rounding up tens of thousands of Jews from his hometown in what is now southwestern Ukraine.

“It was nothing but a miracle that we survived,” Rubinstein told The Associated Press during a recent interview at his apartment in the western German city of Duesseldorf.

The 88-year-old Holocaust survivor is participating in a new digital campaign called #CancelHate. It was launched Thursday by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also referred to as the Claims Conference.

It features videos of survivors from around the globe reading Holocaust denial posts from different social media platforms. Each post illustrates how denial and distortion can not only rewrite history but perpetuate antisemitic tropes and spread hate.

“I could never have imagined a day when Holocaust survivors would be confronting such a tremendous wave of Holocaust denial and distortion, but sadly, that day is here,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.

“We all saw what unchecked hatred led to — words of hate and antisemitism led to deportations, gas chambers and crematoria,” Schneider added. “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.”

The Claims Conference’s new digital campaign comes at a time when antisemitic incidents, triggered by Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s ensuing military campaign in Gaza, have increased from Europe to the U.S. and beyond, to levels not seen in decades, according to major Jewish organizations.

Hamas and other militants abducted around 250 people in the attack and killed around 1,200, mostly civilians. They are still believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of some 30 others. The war has ground on with little end in sight: Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, displaced around 80% of the population and pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine.

The war has inflamed tensions around the world and triggered pro-Palestinian protests, including at college campuses in the U.S. and elsewhere. Israel and its supporters have branded the protests as antisemitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such allegations to silence opponents.

The launch of the Claims Conference campaign also comes days before Yom HaShoah — Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day — next Monday.

In one of the videos, Rubinstein reads out a hate post — only to juxtapose it with his personal testimony about his family’s suffering during the Holocaust.

“’We have all been cheated, lied to, and exploited. The Holocaust did not happen the way it is written in our history books,’” he reads and then says: “That is a lie. The Holocaust happened. Unfortunately, way too many members of my family died in the Holocaust.”

Rubinstein then continues to talk about his own persecution as a Jewish child during the Holocaust.

While forced into the ghetto of Cernisvtsi, his family managed to obtain forged Polish identity documents, which were the only reason he and his mother were taken off the cattle train in 1941.

They fled and hid in several eastern European countries until the war ended in 1945. After that, they briefly went back to his hometown, only to find out that his father, who had been forced into the Soviet Red Army during the war, had been killed. They moved on to Amsterdam, where his mother married again, and eventually settled in Duesseldorf.

“I lived through the Holocaust. Six million were murdered. Hate and Holocaust denial have returned to our society today. I am very, very sad about this and I am fighting it with all my might,” Rubinstein says at the end of the video. “Words matter. Our words are our power. Cancel hate. Stop the hate.”

Even at his old age, Rubinstein, who calls himself an optimist, says he will continue fighting antisemitism every single day. And he has a message, especially for the young generation of Jews.

“Don’t panic,” Rubinstein says. “The good will win. You just have to do something about it.”

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content

At time of rising antisemitism, Holocaust survivors take on denial and hate in new digital campaign (2024)

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