On April 12, Canton, Ohio’s Jewish community will observe “Yom Hashoah,” also known as “Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
The guest speaker will be Erika Gold, a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Hungary.
We need such days of remembrance because to forget would be a desecration to the dead and a disservice to the living.
But it can be easy to forget the Holocaust didn’t start with concentration camps. After World War I, the British and French were so determined to punish Germany, it gave Adolf Hitler a toehold to exploit Germans’ grievances of economic devastation and degradation.
Hitler fed their feelings of victimhood and gave them someone to blame, namely their Jewish neighbors, the world’s go-to scapegoat for millennia.
He did it all through the media. Placing people on a steady diet of misinformation, prejudice, fear-mongering and propaganda is the perfect means by which you can strip them of their desire for freedom in exchange for a promise of safety, security and restored pride.
It wasn’t a formula the Nazis happened to stumble upon. It was a deliberate, organized campaign of lies and misinformation that promised a return to Germany’s glory days.
Taking control of what the public sees, hears and reads while dismantling a free press is Despotism 101.
Radio addresses, movies, posters, newspapers and exciting rallies, all aimed at dehumanizing Jews, Roma and gays; all designed to convince ordinary Germans to support one of the most heinous acts in human history.
The Nazis also had a diabolically brilliant sense of the theatrical, as evidenced by their uniforms, their art, their parades and “Kristallnacht,” the first of many public attacks that destroyed Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues and resulted in several deaths.
The government was able to convince Germans the whole world was against them, that any critics within were traitors, that the minorities and disabled among them were a burden and a threat to the common good, so by the time the camps opened, people who ordinarily wouldn’t have dreamed of killing another person were acclimated to the idea that genocide was necessary if Germany was to recover its purity and power.
Today, journalists around the world are being jailed, shot, poisoned and tortured for telling the truth.
We see strongmen and dictatorial governments, from the Philippines to Syria, to Venezuela, declaring war on “fake news,” meaning information that does not enable their corruption and injustice.
We see TV stations, newspapers and the internet shut down, even in so-called democratic countries.
Here in our own country, we are seeing a demonizing of the media that goes beyond the criticism that is normal, expected, and yes, even justified in some cases.
But there’s a reason why freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment and not the Seventh or the 10th.
Before now, even the most antagonistic politician would have been aghast at the idea of censorship. What might be worse, some outlets are allowing themselves to be co-opted in exchange for access and influence.
Events like Yom Hashoah remind us to stay vigilant and protective of our rights. They’re not meant merely to rehash some long-ago incidents — that weren’t all that long ago. Some of the people who lived to tell are still among us.
Such days are meant to honor those who resisted the path of acquiescence, who understood that it is truth — not work — that makes us free. Those who would be the first ones to warn us that a press that is unable to do its job is the first unraveling thread of a democracy.