U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

January 27, 2024

Facts Under Fire

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

Today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is one of the most solemn days of the year, not only for the Jewish people, but for all those who value freedom and life.

It was on this day in 1945 that Soviet troops liberated the Nazi-run concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Young soldiers, most now long-gone, came face to face with a few hundred survivors, piles of corpses and heaps of personal belongings of the victims of the worst atrocity humans have ever committed against other humans.

As survivors told their stories, the world could no longer deny the enormity of the horrors committed in this place. Journalists snapped photos (no internet or smart phones yet), human rights violators confessed to crimes across Europe, and it became clear that we should, and could never forget the Holocaust. 

I was 15 months old at the time – too young to remember the headlines. But even now, as an adult, it is overwhelming to think of the scale and devastation of the Holocaust in human terms. Six million Jews killed, as well as millions of Roma, Afro-Germans, LGBTQI individuals, people with disabilities, and more.

Seventy-nine years later, the global population of Jews has still not recovered. Alarmingly, there has been a resurgence in the hateful ideologies and actions of those who want to kill every Jew on the face of the earth.

Along side this has been a rise in efforts to minimize or erase the facts of the Holocaust. Deborah Lipstadt, President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, describes Holocaust denialism this way:

People have long been susceptible to conspiracy theories and to notions that go against the facts. For many deniers … it seems there is a deep-seated antisemitism and a feeling that Jews are getting something out of the Holocaust or using the Holocaust for their own advantage, and that the Jews are a manipulative sort so that they must be making this up.”

Antisemitism and hate existed long before the internet, but there is no denying that social media has provided a fertile platform for Holocaust denialism and antisemitism. It has gotten so extreme that even the United Nations has taken notice. In its report entitled, “History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media”, Oxford researchers analyzed thousands of Holocaust-related postings on Facebook, Twitter (now X), TikTok, Instagram and Telegram. According to the report, “nearly half of Holocaust-related content on Telegram either denied or distorted its history. For moderated or regulated platforms, nearly 10 per cent of posts on Facebook, and 15 per cent of posts on Twitter that discussed the Holocaust hosted denial or distortion content.

The brutal terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7, killing more than 1,200 innocent people in Israel – Americans included – and taking hundreds of hostages has poured gasoline on this denialism fire. Despite the fact that Hamas sent its fighters across the border and into Israel with cameras to document their deliberate slaughter and kidnapping of women, children, elderly and others, some groups are now trying to call the worst terror attack on Jews since the Holocaust a “false flag” operation.

Elizabeth Dwoskin writes in the Washington Post that “[s]ome argue the ambush was staged by the Israeli military to justify an invasion of Gaza. Others say that some 240 hostages Hamas took into Gaza were actually kidnapped by Israel. Some contend the United States is behind the plot. These untrue and misleading narratives have been seeded on social media, where hashtags and terms linking Israel to “false flag” — a staged event that casts blame on another party — tripled on services including TikTok, Reddit and 4chan in the weeks after the attacks, according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, a nonprofit tracking disinformation.”

The threats and hate are not confined to the virtual world though. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), antisemitic incidents increased 360 percent in the three months since October 7. “The American Jewish community is facing a threat level that’s now unprecedented in modern history,” according to Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “It’s shocking that we’ve recorded more antisemitic acts in three months than we usually would in an entire year.”

Shocking indeed.

Since October 7, we now have more people in the United States openly talking about getting rid of Jews “from the river to the sea.” This literally means wiping Israel off the map. People are attacking Jewish businesses here in America. They are attacking Jewish students on college campuses in America. I never thought I would see such an eruption in my lifetime.

We cannot accept such blatant disregard for the facts to spread. We cannot excuse the embrace of hate. We cannot be silent. Silence and apathy are what allowed the Holocaust to take root. The Nazis used propaganda to turn people against each other. They were elected to office capitalizing on ignorance and perpetuating falsehoods; they weaponized bigotry and fanaticism until it began to feel normal and accepted. It is hard not to see the similarities to modern day events.

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we all must commit to breaking this cycle of hate, denial and ignorance. As President Joe Biden said on Friday, “without equivocation or exception, we must … forcefully push back against attempts to ignore, deny, distort, and revise history. This includes Holocaust denialism and efforts to minimize the horrors that Hamas perpetrated on October 7, especially its appalling and unforgiveable use of rape and sexual violence to terrorize victims.”        

We all have an essential role to play in correcting disinformation and denialism, with facts and evidence, education. There also must be legal consequences for those who incite and commit violent attacks.

I thank the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for its ongoing efforts across this country and around the world to create lesson plans for schools and fact-based materials to help counter the proliferation of Holocaust-related misinformation. New groups like “Six Million Voices” are taking on this task as well, working to overcome ignorance and apathy with “empathy to inspire everyone to stand up against human suffering anywhere and everywhere.”

Learning the truth – about history and current events – is the key to fighting intolerance and disarming hate. On this day of remembrance, and every day, it is one of the best ways we can pay tribute to the Jews lost in the Holocaust and on October 7.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this topic or any other. I value your feedback.

In solidarity,

Ben Cardin