Holocaust survivor, author and activist Elie Wiesel often spoke of the dangers of silence and indifference in the fight against injustice and atrocities against humanity.
“We must always take sides,” he said. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Weisel’s words still resonate today as the University of Utah prepares to commemorate U Remembers, an annual reflection on the historical effects of racial discrimination and genocide that connects past events with contemporary social issues.
This year’s theme, “Breaking the Silence,” aims to foster a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and to inspire community members to combat the rise of antisemitism and white supremacy by moving from bystanders to active participants. The week’s events will include virtual discussions on the causes and consequences of antisemitism, the impact of bystander inaction on vulnerable victims and observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In January, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres noted an increase in antisemitism and resurgence of Holocaust denial during the COVID-19 pandemic. The secretary-general stressed the need for coordinated global action to counter the spread of neo-Nazism and white supremacy and combat propaganda and disinformation.
“There is no vaccine for antisemitism and xenophobia,” Guterres said. “But our best weapon remains the truth.”
While speaking truth to power is not always comfortable, Weisel and other social justice activists have warned that silence and indifference can be a form of injustice. Looking away while groups of people suffer somehow makes it easier to see them as less than human. One consequence is what happened to Weisel and millions of other people during the Holocaust. Another is an ongoing tolerance of prejudice and discrimination.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal—in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”U Remembers reminds community members never to underestimate the power of their voices to fight all forms of hate and influence positive social change.
The week kicks off on April 5 with a talk on the Crime of Complicity in partnership with the University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law and U Alumni. The discussion will address whether bystanders and witnesses should be legally obligated to intervene to prevent a crime, focusing on the Holocaust and current issues, such as sexual assaults on college campuses. Speakers include Amos N. Guiora, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and author of The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust; and Bob Goldberg, author and former professor of history and director of the Tanner Humanities Center at the University.
On April 7, the U and the Hinckley Institute of Politics will present Reframing the Conversation: White Supremacy and Antisemitism. Panelists will examine how antisemitism is closely related to various forms of nationalist and White supremacist othering of African Americans, Asian Americans, the LGBTQIA+ community, gypsies, and other marginalized groups.
Join the United Jewish Federation of Utah on April 8 for the Yom Hashoah Virtual Commemoration 2021/5781. The Holocaust Remembrance Day observance will feature an interview with Helga Silberberg and her story of surviving the Holocaust in Shanghai.
The week wraps up on April 9 with a keynote speech by Vlad Khaykin, the national director of programs on antisemitism for the Anti-Defamation League. Khaykin, a former refugee and grandson of Holocaust survivors, will discuss lessons of the Holocaust for us today, the rise of the international White supremacist movement, and why solidarity is more important now than ever.
View the full U Remembers schedule and register for events at diversity.utah.edu/ur.