International Holocaust Remembrance Day should unite Blacks and Jews

OPINION: As victims of prejudice, Jews and Blacks need to work in coalition to eliminate the twin plagues of antisemitism and racism.

A German flag is seen at half-mast on the Reichstag building as Bundestag commemorate victims of the Nazis during Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year is placing special emphasis on victims who were homosexuals, on January 27, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on the anniversary of the January 27, 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, commemorates the millions of people murdered and persecuted by the Nazis from the 1930s and into World War II. The victims include over five million Jews, as well as political opponents, Roma, other religious groups and homosexuals. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day for people of every religion and race to reflect on the mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany and dedicate ourselves to combatting hate in all its many forms. 

Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, is visiting Germany and Poland to hold meetings on actions to combat antisemitism to mark the solemn day. One of his stops will be at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where Nazis killed an estimated 1 million Jews and 100,000 others. 

The Holocaust is a uniquely Jewish tragedy, but the antisemitism that fueled the genocide is rooted in the same toxic hatred as the racism that has often victimized Black people.

Second Gentleman of the United States Douglas Emhoff lays a wreath at the so-called Death Wall at the site of the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, in Oswiecim, Poland on January 27, 2023, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Photo by BARTOSZ SIEDLIK / AFP) (Photo by BARTOSZ SIEDLIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler wanted to wipe Jews off the face of the Earth. He called them subhuman and murdered them in gas chambers and with guns, beatings, torture and starvation. 

Enslavers considered Black people subhuman as well; but wanted to keep us alive to work for no wages and in horrific conditions. The United Nations estimates that over 15 million Africans were captured and shipped to the Americas, the Middle East and Europe over nearly 400 years, with at least 2 million dying on slave ships. 

Sadly, both antisemitism and the racism of white supremacists are on the rise. 

An audit by the Anti-Defamation League found that antisemitism “reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism reported.” According to the most recently available FBI statistics, Black Americans were the victims of 2,871 hate crimes in 2020, up from 1,972 in 2019. Many crimes against both groups go unreported as hate crimes.

In the worse single antisemitic incident in American history, a gunman who yelled “all Jews must die” shot and killed 11 worshippers and wounded six at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Another gunman killed one worshipper and injured three at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., in 2019. Many synagogues have now beefed-up security and hold active-shooter drills.

Photographs of the nine victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina are held up by congregants during a prayer vigil at the the Metropolitan AME Church June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

There have been many similar hate-motivated attacks against Black Americans. For example, a white supremacist shot and killed nine Black people at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. Horrendous police killings of unarmed Black people have continued, most notably the murder of George Floyd in 2020. A white supremacist shot and killed 10 Black people and wounded three in a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., last May.

In many cases, the antisemites who hate Jews hate Blacks with equal fervor, just as many white supremacists who hate Blacks also hate Jews. As minorities, Jews and Blacks are easy targets for bigoted people who want to blame their troubles on others.

It’s important to remember that Jews were some of the greatest white allies of Blacks in the civil rights movement and remain fervently committed to protecting “equal justice under the law.” “Probably more than any other ethnic groups, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1968, just days before he was assassinated.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters were among the earliest supporters of the NAACP and the National Urban League. The American Jewish Committee funded a study that helped lead to the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation. Many Jews and dozens of rabbis marched in protests with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. 

March 1965: American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery; among those pictured are, front row, politician and civil rights activist John Lewis (1940 – 2020), Reverend Ralph Abernathy (1926 – 1990), Ruth Harris Bunche (1906 – 1988), Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche (1904 – 1971), activist Hosea Williams (1926 – 2000 right carrying child). (Photo by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Two Jews — Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman — and James Chaney, a Black man, were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen angered that the three were registering Black people to vote in Mississippi in 1964. Their killings were dramatized in the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.”

There are many more examples of Jewish actions of solidarity and friendship with Black people. This makes it especially infuriating that a few prominent Black Americans — most notably Kanye West, who now calls himself Ye — have embraced antisemitism in a disgusting and uninformed manner. 

Ye, who joined Holocaust-denier and racist Nick Fuentes for dinner with former President Donald Trump in November, has made several extreme antisemitic statements recently, including saying in an interview with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “I like Hitler. … I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.” Ye added: “I see good things about Hitler.”

We can be sure that Hitler and the Nazis would not have loved Ye if he had been alive while they were in power. Besides hating Jews, Hitler also detested and hated Black people. There were far fewer Blacks than Jews in Nazi Germany and the nations occupied by Nazi forces during World War II, so Hitler had many more Jewish victims. 

The Nazis forcibly sterilized Black people. They outlawed interracial marriage to prevent what they called “race pollution.” They barred Black children from German schools. They treated Black American prisoners of war more harshly than white POWs, giving the Blacks less food, subjecting some to barbaric medical experiments, working some to death, and executing some. Hitler ultimately put Black people in concentration camps and murdered them just as he murdered Jews. 

As victims of prejudice, Jews and Blacks need to stick together and work in coalition to eliminate the twin plagues of antisemitism and racism. We are brothers and sisters who have far more that unites us than divides us. We should remember this every day, but especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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