Jan. 31, 2017, at 3:45 p.m.
In January 1945, Elsbet Gerst, a German Jew who had been imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp as a victim of the diabolic Dr. Josef Mengele, began a forced march back to Germany, without food or adequate clothes. Nearly 1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Elsbet Gerst was among the few to survive the ordeal. Jan. 27, the date of the liberation of the camps, is now commemorated as International Holocaust Memorial Day.
As President Donald Trump began his second week in office, the White House released a statement, decrying the evil of the Holocaust and urging love and compassion. Curiously, the statement was judenrein – making no mention of Jews and the fact that they were the primary focus of the Nazi’s war on humanity.
To be sure, a statement is a symbolic act, but so too are many of the provisions of executive orders that have come to define the Trump presidency. If the president wants to ensure that “the depravity” of the Holocaust will “never again” be tolerated, he needs to confront and acknowledge what actually happened, even through symbolic acts.
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Leonard Saxe is Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, a faculty member of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, and director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. He is a social psychologist and studies Jewish identity and education.
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