A 2020 survey of Americans under 40 found extremely worrying gaps in their knowledge of the Holocaust. The nationwide survey found that 63% of respondents were unaware of basic facts about the Holocaust, such as the fact that six million Jews were murdered, with more than half of those surveyed believing less than two million were killed. Almost half of respondents could not name a single concentration camp, and 10% said they had never even heard the word “Holocaust.”
This erasure of the Holocaust is as upsetting as it is wrong, making it all the more important to share the stories of those who lived through the event, such as that of Holocaust survivor Siggi Wilzig, subject of the new book Unstoppable.
Born in what was then Western Prussia and what is now part of Poland, Wilzig was one of millions of European Jews swept up in the chaos and horror of the Holocaust when the Nazis came to power. Wilzig was forced to work 12-hour shifts in concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
When the camps were liberated, Wilzig emigrated to the United States, where he got into first sales and then entrepreneurship. Wilzig went from not having a dollar to his name to a billionaire and CEO of Wilshire Oil as well as the Trust Company of New Jersey.
With that money, Wilzig did something of which we are sorely in need now – raise awareness about the Holocaust. In 1975, Wilzig lectured for the cadets and officers at West Point, the first Holocaust survivor to do so. In 1980, he was the first person named by Nobel Laureate and fellow Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, to the US Holocaust Memorial Council. He went on to receive honorary doctorates for his work as well as receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and raise more than $100 million in bonds for Israel.
Wiesel famously insisted “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Neither neutrality nor silence are options in the face of rising Holocaust erasure and denial.
It is our moral duty to the six million lost and humanity writ large to carry on the task of remembrance and carry on the work of individuals such as Wiesel and Wilzig.