A conversation with Holocaust scholar Dr. Irving Berkowitz – South Florida Sun Sentinel

Posted By on October 15, 2022

Dr. Irving Berkowitz, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a renowned scholar and lecturer. He is passionately engaged in issues and causes related to the Holocaust, antisemitism, human rights and social justice. I have heard Dr. Irving lecture on several occasions, and recently had the opportunity to interview him. This is Part One of a two part series.

I started our conversation by asking Dr. Irving why raising awareness of social injustice is such a passion of his.

My passion for social justice, equal protection, non-discrimination and equality of opportunity is rooted in the very proud, deeply observant, socially aware and tragic history of my Jewish family. I am the son of immigrants, survivors of one of the worst atrocities in human history, the Holocaust. Having lost my entire extended family in the largest and most infamous of all Nazi death camps, Auschwitz/Birkenau, for no other reason than being Jewish. From an early age I had a mission that was spiritual and educational, to actively lead, serve and become educated, so I could educate others about antisemitism, racism, hatred, and violence. Both of my parents were not only Holocaust survivors but, like 75% of all survivors they were the sole survivors of their entire families in the former Czechoslovakia. This very personal family tragedy and the cataclysmic fate of my tribe, the Jewish people, loomed large in my life and briskly animated me to learn all that I possibly could about my people, including Jewish history, theology, and culture. I forged an inexorable and uncompromising commitment to becoming a Holocaust scholar with a deep well of knowledge about this longest hatred of Jews throughout history. It was upon this foundation that my interest and activism evolved to encompass the broader issues of the human condition, (e.g. human rights, human diversity, human dignity, and human development).

Dr. Irving explained why some people continue to deny that antisemitism exists.

Jew hatred has roots that run centuries deep in the soil of history. Its intensity, longevity and universality may only be exceeded by its irrationality. From its provenance in the early days of Christendom, throughout the Middle Ages when Jews were persecuted, isolated and expelled from virtually every European country they inhabited, during the pervasive pogroms of the 18th and 19th centuries, to the annihilation of European Jewry far and wide in the Nazi era, Jews have been scapegoated, blamed, brutalized and murdered en masse for others misfortune. There seems to be nothing evil for which Jews cannot be blamed. Indeed, everything evil is Jewish and everything Jewish is evil. This is most evident in countless daily Anti-Zionist/Antisemitic websites and posts across all major social media platforms despite supposed community standards designed to monitor and restrict content that is false, hateful, racist and violence inducing.

Dr. Irving continued, The denial of antisemitism is nearly as outrageous as the denial of the Holocaust. It flies in the face of irrefutable evidence amassed by the Anti-Defamation League that antisemitism in America, especially violent hate crimes, is not only on the rise but has reached record levels in the last three years, suggesting that deniers simply deny the undeniable. Perhaps more disconcerting than denial is the fact that so many dismiss antisemitism as a serious social issue, unworthy of the kind of attention garnered by other forms of bigotry such as racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, etc. Perhaps it has become so ingrained in the fabric of American society that seeing and or hearing of omnipresent antisemitic incidents has become normalized. Either way, antisemitism in America, Europe and elsewhere is not a thing of the past, vanquished with the fall of the Third Reich. It may have taken a brief sabbatical after the war but remains a pernicious and persistent virus coursing through the bloodstream of civilization, exacerbated by pervasive silence, denial and indifference.

I asked Dr. Irving, what can be done to curb or eliminate Holocaust denial on social media?

Few can argue about the enormous social, economic and cultural benefits of social media today. But just as obvious as its auspicious uses, is the weaponization of social media to deny, distort and revise history, to subvert the truth, to propagate and promote false narratives and stereotypes, and to advance an intolerant, dogmatic and fractious far left or far right agenda against Jewish people, communities, organizations and institutions. This, in my opinion, is how social media platforms are being used as flamethrowers of disinformation in the contemporaneous war against the Jews and the Nation/State of the Jewish people. The challenge of curbing the venomous role of social media in stoking Anti-Zionism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial may be formidable but not indomitable.

The most obvious, effective and strategic means of confronting this juggernaut is as follows:

1) Jews must rise above their own political and other differences, even forging coalitions with other targeted and affected ethnic or religious groups to create a sustained campaign of advocacy for more vigorous, consistent and equitable enforcement of community guidelines.

2) The captains of these social media giants must be confronted with their own organizational and employee biases and complicity in fomenting hate, violence, discrimination and denial through lax enforcement of their own published standards, particularly albeit not exclusively in relation to inauthentic, hate-filled, violence-inducing content they permit to be posted about Jews, Israel and the Holocaust. We must be uncompromising about the Holocaust, the most documented atrocity in human history, as a matter of historical fact, open neither to debate nor denial.

3) Finally, enforcement of community standards must be followed by swift and certain action holding those who abuse and/or flagrantly violate such policies accountable by expeditious removal of such harmful Antisemitic content. For those who regularly post Holocaust denying or endorsing material, social media companies must be willing to exercise the ultimate sanction, blocking or disabling accounts and account holders.


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Dr. Irving expressed why Holocaust awareness is so important.

The value of Holocaust knowledge to Jews and non-Jews can best be appreciated when weighed against the cost of Holocaust ignorance. In less than 80 years since the worst genocide in history ended, surveys conducted in America and Europe have shockingly revealed a frightening low level of interest in and knowledge of the Holocaust. Even more concerning is the fact that among millennials and Generation Zrs, few have any knowledge of what concentration camps such as Auschwitz were or how they were used as factories of death.

Nearly half of this demographic havent a clue that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. It is unconscionable to think so many know so little about an unparalleled atrocity such as the Holocaust. This prodigious lack of Holocaust knowledge resulting principally from the failure of most states to mandate Holocaust education lends an unpalatable measure of credence to the belief that this could happen again. In my opinion, the relevance of Holocaust knowledge is universal, not merely because it was the genocidal culmination of a racist ideology, in this case, antisemitism, but especially because the Holocaust is not exclusively a matter of Jewish history, but human history.

Dr. Irving continued, Learning about the Holocaust exposes and challenges us to understand the darker side of humanity, the motivation and capacity of people and societies to discriminate, dominate, segregate, subjugate and annihilate any racial, religious, ethnic or national group. Learning about the Holocaust raises our awareness of the ideological, political, economic, psycho-social and historical factors and forces that spawn conditions in which hatred, scapegoating, prejudice and persecution lead to state-sponsored violence and mass murder. It demonstrates how even the most enlightened, cultured and civilized society(ies) can turn to barbarism and genocide against a devalued and dehumanized segment of their population. This, in turn, allows us to highlight the perils of radical extremist ideologies and the central role of a propaganda apparatus in galvanizing hatred and rationalizing a campaign of genocide. On the level of human behavior, it enables us to grasp the many different choices people made and the roles they played in response to the unspeakable horrors committed by nefarious leaders and their obedient followers.

In conclusion of Part One of our conversation, Dr. Irving was asked what message he tries to pass on to young adults?

The core of my teaching and message to young people is the importance of doing good things. Be a lifelong learner, or as I say of myself, be a student of life and for life.

In Part Two of my conversation with Dr. Irving, he will share details of his career as an educator and lecturer.

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A conversation with Holocaust scholar Dr. Irving Berkowitz - South Florida Sun Sentinel

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