Survivor-Led Digital Campaign Launched by the Claims Conference Shines a Light on Hatred Before the Holocaust

NEW YORK, April 8, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) announces a new Holocaust survivor-led, digital campaign, #ItStartedWithWords.

Before local anti-Jewish laws were enacted, before neighborhood shops and synagogues were destroyed, and before Jews were forced into ghettos, cattle cars, and camps, words were used to stoke the fires of hate. #ItStartedWithWords is a digital, Holocaust education campaign posting weekly videos of survivors from around the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust – a period of time when they could not have predicted the ease with which their long-time neighbors, teachers, classmates, and colleagues would turn on them, transitioning from words of hate to acts of violence.

"The Holocaust started with words," said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference. "Hateful words that were yelled in the park, spat on the street, and roared in the classroom. These words alienated, belittled, and shocked; but worse, these words gave birth to the horrific massacre of six million Jews. The #ItStartedWithWords campaign will show through first-hand survivor testimony that the Holocaust didn't come out of nowhere. It literally started with words."

#ItStartedWithWords will use survivor testimony to give context to the origins of the Holocaust -- the foundation of antisemitism that Hitler and the Nazis used to generate support across Europe before a single act of war was undertaken. The goal of the campaign is to show how words of hate can become actions, and how those actions can have unimaginable outcomes.

Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference said, "You don't wake up one morning deciding to participate in mass murder. Hate speech, propaganda, antisemitism, and racism were the roots that culminated in genocide. The shocking results of our 2020 U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, which found that 63 percent of Millennials and Gen Z did not know six million Jews were murdered, clarifies for us how important it is, not just to teach the history of the Holocaust, but to provide context for how such a horrific outcome like the Holocaust started.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook had this to say, "As the years go by, survivors are getting older and fewer. So, it's important for younger generations to hear their stories and learn about the events that led up to the Holocaust. That's why Facebook is proud to partner with the Claims Conference on their #ItStartedWithWords campaign for Yom HaShoah. Words are powerful. This campaign reminds us to learn from the past and understand how hateful and harmful words used against others can have grave consequences. I am grateful to the Claims Conference for focusing on this lesson so we can remember the stories of Holocaust survivors and ensure that this never happens again." 

Several well-known Holocaust survivors from around the world recorded videos to be posted for the campaign.

Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, born in Poland in 1940, now lives in the U.S. In his campaign video post he shares his thoughts on the origins of the Holocaust, saying "The crematoria, gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere did not begin with bricks, it began with words…evil words, hateful words, antisemitic words, words of prejudice. And they were permitted to proceed to violence because of the absence of words." LINK TO VIDEO

Holocaust survivor and Chairman, Yad Vashem Council Yisrael Meir Lau, born in Poland in 1937, now lives in Israel. His hometown of Piotrkow Trybunalski had more than 10,000 Jews before the war, but most were deported to Treblinka in 1942 and killed. "They thought they could eliminate a people with words," he says in his video post. "And then it turned out that it indeed happened." LINK TO VIDEO               

Holocaust survivor Sidney Zoltak, born in Poland in 1931, now lives in Canada. In his video post, he remembers witnessing hate at a particularly young age: "When I was four years old in 1935, I visited my grandparents in a village where they ran the general store. In front of their store there were young Poles with signs 'Don't Buy From a Jew.' I didn't know what antisemitism was, but that was the first act of antisemitism that I witnessed. Antisemitism in Poland at that time was not only tolerated, but it was encouraged." LINK TO VIDEO

To provide educational resources from partner museums and institutions, as well as the collection of the survivor videos from the campaign, the Claims Conference has also launched, a web site that will serve as a resource for educators around the world.

Nearly 50 museums and institutions from around the world are participating in the campaign including: the United Nations (UN); the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM); Yad Vashem; the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA); Fondation Pour La Memoire De La Shoah; the Anne Frank House, Netherlands; UNESCO; the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin; the Anne Frank Center, Argentina; the Montreal Holocaust Museum; Holocaust Educational Trust of the UK; the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust; Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; the Museum of Jewish Heritage; POLIN, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw and many more.

About the Claims Conference: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), a nonprofit organization with offices in New York, Israel and Germany, secures material compensation for Holocaust survivors around the world. Founded in 1951 by representatives of 23 major international Jewish organizations, the Claims Conference negotiates for and disburses funds to individuals and organizations and seeks the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust. As a result of negotiations with the Claims Conference since 1952, the German government has paid more than $80 billion in indemnification to individuals for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. In 2021, the Claims Conference will distribute approximately $625 million in direct compensation to over 260,000 survivors in 83 countries and will allocate approximately $640 million in grants to over 300 social service agencies worldwide that provide vital services for Holocaust survivors, such as homecare, food and medicine.

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