This week marks 88 years since the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws by Nazi Germany. The dark shadow they cast remains an enduring testament to humanity’s capacity for cruelty. They institutionalized racial discrimination and persecution against Jews, serving as a chilling precursor to the horrors of the Holocaust. However, beyond their historical significance, they offer a stark lesson for our contemporary world in the ongoing battle against racism and prejudice – writes Baruch Adler, Vice Chair of The International March of the Living on the anniversary of the passing of the Nuremberg Laws.
The Nuremberg Laws, consisting of the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor set out to strip Jews of their fundamental rights and dignity. These laws criminalized Jews’ participation in public life, engagement in German culture, and even their right to marry non-Jewish Germans. Essentially, the Nuremberg Laws relegated Jews to second-class citizenship and legitimized their persecution.
The consequences of these laws were nothing short of catastrophic. Families were torn apart, livelihoods destroyed, and a pervasive fear enveloped the Jewish community in Germany. These laws laid the foundation upon which the Nazi regime built its monstrous campaign of extermination, the Holocaust. The systematic genocide of six million Jews can be traced back to the dehumanization and persecution initiated by the Nuremberg Laws.
However, even now, there are those who want to deny or distort the Holocaust. The words of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were rightly condemned by the US, the European Union, and others. Yet, just like his vile statement that somehow the annihilation of Jews in Germany by the Nazis was not a ‘racist’ enterprise, the passage into law of the Nazi’s antisemitic ideology under the Nuremberg laws was not an isolated incident.
Just as ordinary citizens were coerced into enforcing these discriminatory laws, creating a culture of compliance and conformity, the Nuremberg Laws illustrate how easily a society can descend into darkness when fueled by hatred and intolerance. Today, with social media, these trends, these vile statements carry far beyond borders and continents. They infiltrate the discourse among younger generations who do not understand – at least do not appreciate the enormity – of where such beliefs and vitriolic ideologies can lead.
In this context, the significance of international Holocaust education and remembrance organizations cannot be overstated. March of the Living, for example, unites young people from diverse corners of the globe, enabling them to visit Holocaust sites, concentration camps, and ghettos. By witnessing the remnants of this dark chapter in history firsthand, participants gain profound insights into the consequences of bigotry and discrimination.
March of the Living provides a priceless opportunity for young individuals to connect with the past, empowering them to carry the lessons of the Holocaust into the future. It nurtures empathy, tolerance, and a commitment to ensuring that such atrocities are never repeated. Through education and remembrance, these organizations build a bridge between the past and the present, ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust endures as a beacon of resistance against racism.
Crucially, in recent years many of the nations on whose soil the atrocities of the Holocaust took place have undergone a deep process of soul-searching and introspection which has led to a commitment – like the Nuremberg Laws passed into law yet diametrically the opposite – to ensure that antisemitism and other forms of racism can never again be allowed to stand.
Germany has for many years led this wave of justice – but more and more nations around Europe have followed suit. While sadly, others have not. Moreover, we see a dangerous rise in far-right extremism in the polls in many nations across Europe. Even in Germany and Austria, Italy, France, Hungary and Poland. These parties’ ideologies are rooted in neo-Nazi hatred, and they draw their support through populist scaremongering and spreading falsehoods and incitement.
As such the anniversary of the Nuremberg Laws must not be allowed to pass silently. All those who support a peaceful future for all must use this opportunity to sound the alarm. What starts with hateful writing becomes hateful policies which become hateful laws – a path that can lead to very Gates of Hell. And it is a journey which happens much faster than one could imagine. It took Hitler less than a decade – and he didn’t have social media to amplify his hate.