Opinion: ‘Never forget’ remains an apt slogan for democracy

In Holocaust education, we use the phrase “Never Forget.” While referring specifically to the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, Never Forget has a broader meaning — never to allow the abandonment of democratic values, the loss of moral clarity.

The fear has now struck again. Six months ago, it was bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, and verbal assaults. This time, it is an angry mob, fueled by hatred of “the other,” especially the Jews. The chants, full of vitriolic hate, were of “Jews will not replace us” and “Jew, Jew, Jew.”

Watching the footage brought me back to my childhood, when I heard many Holocaust survivors paint unthinkable pictures with their words of atrocities suffered for one, and only one reason — they were Jewish. And I was reminded of the soldiers, our parents and grandparents, who fought against the Nazi regime and liberated Europe from Hitler’s inhuman chokehold.

Our families, yours and mine, Americans, fought for democratic values, for pluralism, for the right to protest and speak freely. They fought not only to defend the United States, but also to free countries and citizens around the world whose democratic way of life had been stolen.

The neo-Nazis, white supremacists and their hateful brethren who marched in Charlottesville are just the opposite. While they do take advantage of the Constitutional right to protest and speak freely, they are nothing short of un-American. We should never forget that hate groups and their leaders cannot be legitimized. We should never forget the utter lack of moral equivalency between haters and those who oppose them. Whatever they may call themselves, the bigots have one end-game—the destruction of our democratic value system in the name of white supremacy.

In the South, the Jewish community has been one of its victims. Just to speak of the Atlanta area. More than 100 years ago, Leo Frank was lynched. Fifty years ago, The Temple on Peachtree Street was firebombed. Throughout our history, we have faced the constant attacks, the derogatory remarks, quotas in schools, physical assaults, and “forgetful scheduling” of events that conflict with our most sacred religious holidays.

Charlottesville made me recall my childhood, when my parents shared their own stories of standing up to the KKK. They told me about Holocaust survivors who confronted hate in the U.S. in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Imagine the post-traumatic stress and the strength it took after the Holocaust to once again stand up to threatening bigots seeking to suck democracy dry. Never forget.

But just as important, never forget or underestimate the uniqueness of American society or the strengths of our pluralistic democracy. We are stronger and more united as a community. We saw in Charlottesville counter-protesters from all faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities. It was a reminder to never forget that we, and the vast majority who oppose the purveyors of hate, are not alone.

Over the years, these trials and tribulations have inspired the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to create the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition, the Latino-Jewish Task Force, and the Muslim-Jewish Initiative. These have given us opportunities to create dialogue and build understanding so we can preserve the privilege of living in a democracy.

We invite all of Atlanta’s multicultural citizenry to gain from AJC’s programs founded on the principle that our differences are actually our strength. While the programs are separate and distinct, they often reinforce each other to strengthen our community bonds and ensure that none of us ever forgets that neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and their sympathizers are unequivocally placed outside the pale as immoral, illegitimate, and anti-democratic. Never forget — they have no place in our precious, democratic American society.

Dov Wilker is Atlanta regional director, American Jewish Committee.