A 2020 study of Millennials and Gen-Zers said that 10 percent do not believe and/or are uncertain that the Holocaust happened, and that nearly half couldn’t name a concentration camp or ghetto, or have seen Holocaust denial online.
These stats were too much for Mitch Chargo.
Chargo, an attorney, was also a history major with a passion for studying World War II, has spent the last several years preparing for last week’s launch of the Institute for Holocaust Research and Education. The non-profit is aiming to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to fight and condemn growing antisemitism rooted in Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism that is directly linked to reduced knowledge about the Holocaust.
“Since so much of the antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion happens on social media, that’s the battleground that we’re going to be fighting on,” said Chargo. “I built this company put together a board and assembled a panel of young professional thought leaders, who are volunteers. And they’re all incredibly amazing and passionate people in this project.”
The IHRE website launched on Jan. 20, the 81st anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, the meeting at which the “final solution to the Jewish problem” was discussed.
Judi Shink, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust and who has worked as an educator going to schools to talk to groups about the Holocaust, is one of the people on the IHRE board.
“I was so honored to be part of such a new groundbreaking thing that is just trying to reach people and do the work that I do in a different way,” she said. “Reaching different people with new technology, across the country, is just a really cool, innovative idea.”
Chargo said that the social media would be aimed at the millennial and Gen-Z crowd, with more traditional forms of outreach – newsletters and speakers, for the older demographics.
“Our campaign territories are not being a bystander,” he said. “There is no debate: the Holocaust happened. It’s the most documented crime in the history of the world. Let’s not even get into a debate about it.”
Social media efforts are going to include definitions of terms associated with the Holocaust and images that will help illustrate the people behind some of the atrocities.
“We’ll try to use some contemporary photos of neo-Nazis standing and brown shirts with red armbands doing the [Nazi salute], and we’ll show the black and whites from the 1930s and 40s, where they’re doing the same thing,” Chargo said. “It’s those kinds of images, I think that resonates really well, with these two generations, and they can start to engage in dialogue and conversation and know who are the perpetrators and what these words mean?”
The Jewish Community Relations Council also does work in the Holocaust education space, but much of its effort is designed to reach students and educators – a slightly different demographic than IHRE.
“While we definitely communicate and they’re in our community, we don’t have a program that targets that specific audience,” said Laura Zelle, the director of Holocaust education at JCRC. “The more people that talk about antisemitism is good. Engaging a younger generation? We support that.”