Saturday, July 26, 2008

GedenK Campaign Targets Holocaust Deniers

As I eagerly awaited Saturday Night Live, a commercial ran with an attractive violinist. She told the story of Nazi's invading her grandfather's town in Poland, finding a young Jewish girl who played the violin beautifully. They cut off her hands. GedenK flashed on the screen.

What the hell? Having been to Dachau, Germany, I've stood at a site of unspeakable evil. It's darkness lingered long after my feet left the grounds. But why this commercial, why now? I googled GedenK.

Their aim is to teach and raise youth awareness about anti-Semitism, racism and their consequences.

Sure, that's noble enough. That could include Native Americans, Africans who perished in droves while being brought to America for slavery, anywhere imperial powers oppressed locals or pitted people violently against each other to maintain control.

On closer examination GedenK has one campaign thus far, remembering the Holocaust. The ad ran in America. How is the U.S. doing on Holocaust education? Mary Beth Donnelly did a study, "Educating Students about the Holocaust: A Survey of Teaching Practices." It was published in 2006, with data from 2003-2004. It concluded:

"The findings show that Holocaust education is well represented in secondary schools."

So why GedenK and why now? The three principal actors behind the group state their Jewish heritage.

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky speaks to the motivation of leaders in communicating certain messages:

Popular opinion in the United States has been very well studied, mainly because the business classes, who run the country, want to have their finger on the public pulse - for the purpose of control and propaganda. You can only hope to control people's attitudes and opinions if you know a lot about them, so we know a lot about public opinion....

Actually, the United States is far from a fascist country, that's a bad analogy. But the similarity to fascist propaganda techniques is quite striking, and it's not accidental. The Nazis explicitly, consciously, and openly adopted the techniques of American commercial advertising, and said so. They took a few simple ideas, stressed them over and over again, and made them look glamorous - that was the technique of American commercial advertising in the 1920s and it was the model that the Nazis explicitly adopted, and it's the model of business propaganda today.

Today, the message repeated over and over is Iran hates Israel and wants to wipe it out, that Iran wants nuclear weapons to use on Israel, who happens to have hundreds of nukes of their own.

GedenK likely is a group of caring world citizens who want no harm to come to any of the God of Abraham's people. But its message seems odd, at least in America at the moment. I can understand them advertising in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other areas with deep educational deficiencies on the Holocaust. But this evening it had the feel of a setup, of justifying a pre-emptive attack to save future violinist's hands. I've been wrong before and will be again, but I know what I felt.

We should remember the holocaust to stop the persecution of any group of people. It should not be used to perpetuate horrors on thousands, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of innocents.