Alarmed by a rise in online antisemitism during the pandemic, coupled with studies indicating younger generations lack even basic knowledge of the Nazi genocide, Holocaust survivors are taking to social media to share their experience of how hate speech paved the way for mass murder.
With short video messages recounting their stories, participants in the #ItStartedWithWords campaign hope to educate people about how the Nazis embarked on an insidious campaign to dehumanize and marginalize Jews — years before death camps were established to carry out murder on an industrial scale.
The plan is to release six individual videos and a compilation Wednesday over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, followed by one video per week. The posts will include a link to a webpage with further resources, including more testimonies and teaching materials.
The campaign, launched to coincide with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, was organized by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates compensation for victims. It is backed by many organizations, including the European Jewish Congress.
It comes as a study released this week by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, found that coronavirus lockdowns last year shifted some antisemitic hatred online, where conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the pandemic’s medical and economic devastation abounded.
Though the ‘Antisemitism Worldwide 2020’ report showed that the social isolation of the pandemic resulted in fewer acts of violence against Jews across some 40 countries, EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor expressed concern that online vitriol could lead to physical attacks when lockdowns end.
Recent surveys carried out by the Claims Conference in several countries have revealed a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people, which the organization hopes the campaign will help address.
In a 50-state study of Millennials and Generation Z-age people in the US last year, for example, researchers found that 63% of respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and 48% could not name a single death camp or concentration camp.
Claims Conference President Gideon Taylor told the AP in a telephone interview from New York that the surveys highlighted that “messages and concepts and ideas that were common and understood 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago” are not any more.
After the success of a social media campaign last year using the messages of survivors to pressure Facebook to ban posts that deny or distort the Holocaust, Taylor said it made sense to seek their help again.
“The Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere,” he said. “Before Jews were driven out of their schools, their jobs, their homes, before the synagogues, shops and businesses were destroyed and before there were ghettos and camps and cattle cars, words were used to stoke the fires of hate.”