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Fight back against the frightful surge of anti-Semitism

The entrance to the Birkenau Concentration Camp in

The entrance to the Birkenau Concentration Camp in Auschwitz, Poland, with the words "In work there is freedom" on the banner. Wednesday marks the 76 anniversary of the liberation of the camp. Credit: Getty Images/David Clapp

"Camp Auschwitz," the shirt said. "Work brings freedom."

It was one of the most haunting images from the Capitol riot earlier this month, a bearded man wearing the shirt, containing the reference to a Nazi concentration and death camp, and the translation of a German phrase that adorns its gates.

It’s disturbing, but perhaps not surprising, that such anti-Semitism was so out in the open in the nation’s capital 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, commemorated Wednesday.

Two days after the riot, in the early morning hours, a Confederate flag — another symbol of hate and white supremacy seen at the Capitol — was tied to the doors of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The museum’s chief executive, Jack Kliger, told the editorial board recently that the incident was a sign "that there’s no corner of this country that’s immune."

These aren't the first times we’ve seen such brazen displays of hate, and they won’t be the last. The Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 and the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly in 2017, where people shouted, "Jews will not replace us," were just the most public and horrific examples. But anti-Semitism and hate continue even here on Long Island, most recently when hackers filled a Great Neck Jewish day school’s website with swastikas and slurs last month.

None of this is new. But over the past four years, white supremacist and hate groups acted boldly. President Donald Trump never quickly and fully denounced the Charlottesville haters and their venom seeped back into the mainstream.

A report from the American Jewish Congress released Tuesday showed a more recent, disturbing trend: Holocaust denial has become a connecting thread between long-existing neo-Nazi groups and relatively new QAnon conspiracy theorists, and the use of alternative social media platforms has lured even more mainstream individuals who supported Trump into seeing such dangerous perspectives.

Months before the Capitol uprising, the heads of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said white supremacists are a threat to the public order. The AJC is correct in saying there should be a greater focus on stopping the so-called "radicalization pipeline."

Now there is a greater effort by social media platforms to stop the spread of lies and false conspiracies and that could help, but it also may make such hate more insidiously hidden and more difficult to fight. We must remain vigilant about the danger that lurks. The Museum of Jewish Heritage focuses on education with now-virtual programs addressing the Holocaust, but also hate and anti-Semitism more broadly. Schools across the region must do more on these issues, too.

And even as haters use social media to gather and plan, the same tools can be used to challenge those voices.

As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are alive to give their accounts, it’s up to those who know their stories to make sure they are still told. Wednesday is Holocaust Remembrance Day and it is clear there is more to learn — and to remember.

— The editorial board

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