Committing to never again
When it comes to being an effective ally, we must not remain silent, but challenge and change the narrative. Commit today to never remain silent in the face of bigotry and injustice.
Vlad Khaykin, national director of programs on antisemitism for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), began his virtual U Remembers keynote address with a moment of silence in memory of the Holocaust and all genocides past and present.
His speech was the culmination of U Remembers, the University of Utah’s annual reflection on the historical effects of racial discrimination and connections between past and contemporary social issues.
In keeping with this year’s theme, “Breaking the Silence,” the week focused on fostering a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and inspiring community members to combat the rise of antisemitism by moving from bystanders to active participants.
As a grandson of Holocaust survivors and a refugee from state-sponsored antisemitism in the Soviet Union, Khaykin recounted his family’s story of tragedy and survival.
After the Nazis invaded his hometown of Gomel, Belarus, in 1941, his grandfather managed to survive an execution-style shooting, and a Russian soldier pulled him from a pile of corpses.
“The odds of my being here with you today to deliver this address are infinitesimal, and it is a reminder of the unlikely blessing of being alive,” Khaykin said. “For today, more than 75 years since the end of the Holocaust, the Jewish community has still not recovered its population to pre-Holocaust numbers. The ghosts of those whose lives were stolen from us are all around us, beseeching us to commit ourselves to never again.”
That commitment is more crucial than ever, Khaykin said.
He cited an ADL report that violent antisemitism has more than tripled in the past few years, and white supremacist propaganda had exploded from fewer than 500 instances documented in 2017 to more than 5,000 last year.
“Today, as in the past, the resurgence of antisemitism has fueled the erosion of democratic norms and the assault on democratic institutions, culminating in the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol,” he said.
Khaykin attributed the resurgence to divisive political rhetoric and tech companies allowing extremists to hijack their technologies to spread hate. He said it also stems from individuals who allow fear to cloud their moral judgment and a failure of people to understand history, thereby dooming us to repeat it.
“We got here because we have allowed politicians to sacrifice the integrity of our democracy and the security of our citizenry for personal gain and political expediency,” Khaykin said. “Kung flu. China virus. Wuhan flu. These words have turned fears of the coronavirus into weapons that have resulted in violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.”
That also was the case for Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s and the Holocaust, Khaykin said.
“Every campaign of genocide in history was preceded by a campaign of words,” he said. “People don’t just up and start murdering their neighbors overnight. That takes conditioning.”
Khaykin encouraged community members not to remain silent but to challenge and change the narrative. When it comes to being an effective ally, everyone has a unique role to play.
“We must identify the particular contribution we can make based on our privilege, our position, our network, our sphere of influence, our skills, knowledge, etc.,” he said. “But first, as good allies, we have to listen and defer to those whose lived experience or expertise makes them in the best position to lead.”
He concluded his remarks by highlighting the importance of historical memory and commemorative events like U Remembers. The community must not allow hate to have the last word.
“As the Holocaust draws further and further away in the rearview mirror of history and as there are fewer and fewer firsthand witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust, we run the risk of forgetting, and in so doing expose ourselves to the possibility of repeating the horrors of the past,” Khaykin said. “Commit today to never remain silent in the face of bigotry and injustice. Commit yourselves to ensuring that ‘never again’ isn’t merely a trite truism but a guiding maxim that compels us to act.”