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Home World News Washington Post World News Kristallnacht survivors warn against anti-Semitism, hate speech

Kristallnacht survivors warn against anti-Semitism, hate speech

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BERLIN — Holocaust survivors around the world warn of the resurgence of anti-Semitism as they celebrate the 84th anniversary on Wednesday of Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass” — when Nazis terrorized Jews across Germany and Austria.

In the #ItStartedWithWords campaign of the organization that handles claims on behalf of Jews who suffered under the Nazis, several Holocaust survivors videoed how anti-Semitic utterances led to actions that nearly led to the mass extermination of Jews in Europe in the last century.

Among them is 90-year-old Eva Szepesi, a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp.

“It started for me when I was eight years old, and I couldn’t understand why my best friends were yelling bad names at me,” she said.

Szepesi was shocked how her closest friends could treat her like that, but soon the Jewish girl found herself fleeing the Nazis before being captured and deported to Auschwitz at age 12. Her parents and brother were murdered in Auschwitz.

On November 9, 1938, the Nazis, including many ordinary Germans, killed at least 91 people and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses during the Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany and Austria. They also burned more than 1,400 synagogues, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Up to 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many to Nazi death camps such as Dachau or Buchenwald. Hundreds more committed suicide or died as a result of the abuse in the camps years before the official mass deportations began.

By the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazis and their accomplices had murdered six million European Jews.

The #ItStartedWithWords campaign, a relaunch of the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also known as the Claims Conference, is a digital education project in which survivors reflect on the moments that led to the Holocaust. That was a time when they could not have predicted the ease with which their neighbors, teachers, classmates and colleagues would turn against them, moving from words of hatred to acts of violence.

“Relaunching this campaign goes beyond commemorating Kristallnacht,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference. “With the growing prevalence of Holocaust denial, distortion and hate speech on social platforms, the core message behind the #ItStartedWithWords campaign becomes even more important: The Holocaust didn’t start with camps, ghettos and deportations; it started with words of hate.”

In Germany, a group tracking anti-Semitism said it documented more than 2,700 incidents in the country last year, including 63 attacks and six instances of extreme violence.

In a report in June, the Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism, or RIAS, said the coronavirus pandemic, with its anti-Jewish conspiracy stories, and the Middle East conflict with anti-Semitic criticism of Israel were the main drivers of the 2,738 incidents it documented.

Incidents of bias and hate speech are also on the rise in the US, including recent comments from singer Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and a social media post shared by NBA star Kyrie Irving.



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