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Guest Column
Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, don’t just remember, stand up | Column
The Holocaust showed us the difference between those who stand on the sidelines and those who stand up, and we need more of the latter.
Above the gate at Auschwitz is the sign Arbeit macht frei ("work sets you free"), a bitter irony to those who suffered and died at the Nazi concentration camp.
Above the gate at Auschwitz is the sign Arbeit macht frei ("work sets you free"), a bitter irony to those who suffered and died at the Nazi concentration camp. [ SOMER | Abaca Press ]
Published Jan. 27

Today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marks 78 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

The United Nations designated this date to honor the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust – almost a million of whom died at Auschwitz — alongside millions of other victims. The Florida Holocaust Museum honors them today, as we also emphasize the value of acting as Upstanders no matter the circumstances.

Mike Igel
Mike Igel [ Provided ]

Remembrance is fine, but it’s hollow if not paired with action. The Holocaust showed us the difference between those who stand on the sidelines and those who stand up, and we need more of the latter.

America saw rising antisemitism, anti-Jewish hate crimes and disturbing Holocaust ignorance in 2022, and the Tampa Bay Area was not spared from this trend.

Thankfully, our community didn’t take it lying down.

Turning Point USA strongly condemned the Nazis who demonstrated outside their downtown Tampa conference, as did former Gov. Charlie Crist, Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, and the Tampa City Council in a unanimous resolution. Then-Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman to serve in a Florida Cabinet, made the important point that antisemitism is a human issue rather than a political one.

At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz underscored the importance of requiring Holocaust education in Florida’s schools so that “students learn about how the evils of antisemitism caused a widespread genocide so that we ensure it will never happen again.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, state Rep. Ben Diamond and others condemned the antisemitic flyers that were distributed in St. Pete’s Central Oak Park neighborhood.

Led by Florida Rep. Linda Chaney, the Florida Legislature recently awarded The Florida Holocaust Museum $5 million to further our educational mission and provide for the additional security infrastructure made necessary by ongoing antisemitism.

Every time someone stands up to condemn antisemitism, it makes this region safer and more welcoming, but the meaning of Upstanding goes even deeper for me.

When the Nazi death machine arrived in Poland, the Gerula family hid my grandparents in their barn. For sheltering a family whose only “crime” was to be Jewish, they were arrested, tortured and executed. They never revealed my grandparents.

Their example inspires me every day. Even though everyday people became Nazis, many others became the guerrillas who fought tyranny and the righteous who protected the innocent. Evil can be mundane, but so too can good.

The Florida Holocaust Museum has been educating people of all ages for decades on the best ways to spot and fight the many insidious faces of antisemitism. This year, we’re rolling out and expanding initiatives aimed at creating more Upstanders, like our corporate training programs on antisemitism in the workplace.

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People frequently ask me what they can do to help. My response is: Do something visible. Visit the museum, speak to a Survivor, call out antisemitic remarks, condemn hate.

Today, Upstanding doesn’t usually require acts of incredible bravery and sacrifice like those of the Gerulas. All the more reason to be one. Don’t just remember the Holocaust, learn from it — and stand up.

Mike Igel is chairman of the board of The Florida Holocaust Museum, chairman of the Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education and an attorney with the law firm Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, LLP.