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Holocaust survivors on Capitol Hill light candles to remember

WASHINGTON (RNS) On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli and American officials warn of rising intolerance.

Holocaust survivors and museum volunteers, Josiane and Freddie Traum, light a candle on stage during the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's Days of Remembrance ceremony in the Visitor's center at the US Capitol. Photo courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

WASHINGTON (RNS) At Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Capitol, speakers warned of anti-Semitism  as a problem of the millennia, and hate speech as a challenge that threatens present-day America.

Eight elderly survivors of the Holocaust — which took the lives of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million Jewish children — lit six candles at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall on Thursday (May 5) as a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum official told of the death camps they survived, and of those who had risked their lives to save them.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., told the scores of clergy, survivors and others gathered for the ceremony that the Holocaust has ironically blotted out the anti-Semitism and mass killings of Jews in the millennia before it.

“We have forgotten that this hatred has transcended time and space, faith and cultures,” Dermer said. Because of its “unprecedented scale and scope” and “unfathomable premeditation and unimaginable cruelty,” the Holocaust “has been a blinding sun blocking out the many stars of anti-Semitism that have littered the skies of the Jewish people’s history.”

Though anti-Semitism became unacceptable in civilized society in the half-century after the Holocaust, “hating Jews is fashionable once again,” Dermer continued, referring to the FBI’s most recent statistics on hate crimes against religious groups, which show that 57 percent target Jews.

And “the old hatred of the Jewish people has become a new hatred of the Jewish state,” Dermer said.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, whose great-grandfather fled anti-Jewish riots in Ukraine five decades before the Holocaust, told the assembly that she doesn’t think a Holocaust is possible in the U.S., but that the hate speech showcased in the presidential race should put the nation on alert.

READ: Pritzker’s speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day

“Society does not move from good to evil overnight,” she said. “Today in our beloved United States we are witnessing a rising fear of ‘the other.'” She spoke of a recent Southern Poverty Law Center study of teachers, two-thirds of whom reported that Muslims and children of immigrants in their classes fear for the futures in this country.

“If one of the lessons of the Holocaust is ‘thou shalt not be silent,'” Pritzker said, “today, on this Day of Remembrance, we must honor the memories of the millions who were murdered by speaking up against hate speech we encounter in our lives and in our country.”

The Holocaust, which also killed millions of non-Jews — including Roma, gays and the disabled — ended 71 years ago, with the Allied victory in World War II.