Americans must remember the Holocaust

Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved my grandma’s life twice during the Holocaust. First, by issuing false citizenship documents to Jews in Hungary; second, by personally convincing Nazi guards not to gun down the 80,000 Jews left in the Budapest Ghetto at the end of the war. My grandma was hiding in a burnt-out building, crammed into a small attic space with her fellow prisoners. She was 17. Her parents and five of her siblings never came home.

My grandma is nearly 93 now and lives a wonderful life outside of San Francisco, a short drive from my wife and me. We see her every week and call her every day. She is our hero.

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She talks about the war a lot, not for people to have pity on her but simply to preserve the memory. How she wore the same thin dress day and night, even through the frigid winter months. How she subsisted in Budapest on small quantities of bread and mustard. How her cousin was in a camp where people got so desperately hungry that – she’ll always pause here and say she doesn’t want to say it, but then she’ll say it – they chewed on the bones of the deceased.

As an American today, a common narrative I hear is that we live in dark times. That the winds of nationalism and intolerance are blowing in our country. The data supports the claim. Over the past three years, the number of hate groups in America has risen 20%.

Anti-Semitism has spiked 57% since Donald Trump became president.

Assaults against Muslims are up, too. To fully understand the dangers of injustice, however, it is necessary that we learn from the Holocaust. It is our outer limit; it is where man is capable of going.

As a global superpower and as Israel’s greatest ally, America should lead the way on Holocaust remembrance. Unfortunately, America is failing. In a recent survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, 41% of American adults and 66% of millennials – young people born between 1981-1996 – didn’t know what Auschwitz was. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, yet 31% of adults and 41% of millennials claim the figure is no larger than two million. Perhaps most troubling, more than 20% of millennials surveyed were not sure if they’d ever heard of the Holocaust.

A famous saying in the aftermath of the Holocaust has been “never forget.” That approach is not good enough. The act of forgetting is passive and inevitable. We forget lunches and car keys; we can’t be given the chance to forget the most prolific mass genocide in human history.

No, the Holocaust must be actively remembered, and it starts in American homes and communities. The Holocaust must be talked about. It must be studied. Its stories must be shared. Every day, there are fewer survivors around to transmit this history. In 10 years, there will be even fewer. In 20 years, there might be none. If America takes Holocaust remembrance seriously, the rest of the world will notice.

Americans, if you read a compelling article about the Holocaust, post it for your friends to see. If you know a survivor, tell his or her story. If you are a parent, make sure your kids know what happened.

They must understand how precious freedom and fairness are.

As a nation, America must do better. We must pressure our elected officials to emphasize Holocaust education. It is an ethical imperative. No student should graduate without knowing about Auschwitz or without taking a virtual tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, or of Yad Vashem in Israel. If America is indeed Israel’s closest ally, shouldn’t America properly observe Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day? Six million Jews and millions more were murdered. An obligatory White House statement seems grossly insufficient. It also fails to model to the rest of the world how crucial Holocaust remembrance is.

If not for Raoul Wallenberg, my grandma never would have made it home.

She never would have lived a long and full life in America. I am reminded of the Holocaust every day when she picks up my call. I might be an American millennial, but I remember what happened. As a result, I know what’s at stake when despots reign and hatreds rise.

Will my fellow Americans be able to say the same?

The author is a former professional basketball player who played four seasons in Israel. He received his MBA from Stanford and now works for a tech company in Silicon Valley.