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Elon Musk after his first visit to Auschwitz: ’I am still absorbing the magnitude of the tragedy. I think it’ll take a few days to set in’

When last September, Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla and owner of X (formerly Twitter)  gave a ‘’tentative yes’’ to an invitation to visit Auschwitz from Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association (EJA),  during a discussion on the social media with key Jewish figures from across the world, some believed that this was only a vague commitment after X was accused of allowing antisemitic material to spread.

Rabbi Margolin, who heads the largest federation of Jewish communities in Europe, is bringing every year European leaders for a symposium and remembrance visit to Auschwiyz-Birkenau, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in order to commemorate the 1,1 million Jews who were exterminated in the concentration camps and reflect on ways to combat the astronomic rise of antisemitism.  Some of these leaders visited Auschwitz for the first time and it changed them.

“It is one thing to read a history book or see pictures. But to really understand what the end station of antisemitism looks like, to really understand the depths to which the freedom of the Jewish people was denied and obliterated, to fully understand why we Jews are so worried about antisemitism, a visit to Auschwitz is a  necessary and life-changing experience,’’ says the EJA Chairman.

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But several months after Elon Musk gave a tentative ‘yes’, things showed that he was serious and that he kept to his commitment as he visited on Monday – also for the first time- the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. During his 3-hour visit, he was accompanied by Rabbi Margolin and a Holocaust survivor, Gideon Lev.

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Musk laid a wreath at the wall of death and took part in a memorial ceremony and service by the Birkenau Memorial.

Gideon Lev, who accompanied Musk during his visit, was six years old when he was interned in the Theresienstadt ghetto with his family in 1941. Twenty-six of Lev’s family members were murdered in the Holocaust, including his father, who died while being transported from Auschwitz to Buchenwald.
Lev was 10 years old when the Red Army liberated the concentration camp in May 1945. He told European Jewish Press about his feelingafter the visit with Musk: ” I think he is a good person. I would have loved to have a person-to- person exchange with him but it was not possible because of the presence of too much people and too much pressure.”

”I would have discussed with him several ideas regarding freedom of speech. I would have told him: I am also for freedom of speech but look what happened in Nazi Germany. Long before the gaz chambers, they considered freedom of speech, you could say whatever you want, that the Jews are terrible, that they do this and this, that they have big nose…All lies but then it was freedom of speech. Freedomof speech is good, we need it we have to be very careful. Where  is the borderline when you express lies like the Nazis did ? That’s not freedom of speech.’’

Afterwards, Musk joined in Krakow a symposium on combating antisemitism where he spoke among others about antisemitism, free speech and Israel  for an hour during a wide ranging conversation led by American  columnist and commentator Ben Shapiro from the Daily Wire. Among the personalities present at the symposium were the 10th President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora and Combating Antisemitism Amichai Chikli, Miguel Angel Moratinos, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan as well as several former Prime Ministers and Presidents, of European countries as well as Jewish community leaders and many media representatives.

Elon Musk and Ben Shapiro at the EJA symposium on antisemitis, in Krakow.
Picture from EJP.

Introducing the conversation, Rabbi Margolin told Elon Musk: ‘’As you stated in recent months, ‘AI is potentially the ‘most pressing’ existential risk to humans’. I must tell you that there is a clear and present danger of a different AI – Antisemitism Incitement. That’s why I really wanted you to be here Elon, because this AI ended up fueling the ovens at Auschwitz, and powering the trains that took the cattle trucks of Jews to be murdered.’’

‘’When we were walking around Auschwitz together earlier on today, I couldn’t help ask myself if the horror of the death camps would have been possible if social media was around in those days.’’

‘’After the Holocaust, one of the most heard sentences was “we didn’t know”. Today everything is public.’’

Musk said: ‘’I am still absorbing the magnitude of the tragedy that I witnessed at Auschwitz. I think it’ll take a few days to set in.’’

‘’Relentless pursuit of the truth is the goal with X. Even if it’s controversial, provided it doesn’t break the law, I think that’s the right thing to do,’’ he said.

He emphasized that he went to a Jewish preschool in South Africa. ‘’I went to Israel when I was thirteen. I Visited Masada. I’ve checked the boxes on a lot of things. Sometimes I think, ‘am I Jewish?’ Aspirationally Jewish.’’

He continued, ‘’In the circles that I move I see almost no antisemitism. Two thirds of my friends are Jewish. I never hear about it at dinner conversations; it’s an absurdity in my friend circles.’’

He added, ‘’ But looking at the pro- Hamas rallies that have taken place at almost every city in the west, it’s blown my mind. Including at elite college campuses. You’re supposed to be enlightened on those campuses, not fostering hate.’’

Regarding the war between Israel and Hamas he noted that ‘’there will not be peace if indoctrination is not stopped. When I was in Israel (two months ago), that was my top recommendation. I understand the need to invade Gaza and it’s unfortunate that many people die, but the most important thing to ensure afterwards is that the indoctrination stops.’’

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