In 2020, a survey showed that one in ten people under the age of forty had never heard the term Holocaust. That 63% didn't know that six million Jews were murdered. In New York, California, and Indiana higher than twenty percent thought that the Holocaust was a myth or was exaggerated.
This is happening as the last survivors are quietly disappearing. World War II ended seventy-eight years ago. A person who was twenty at the war's end is ninety-eight now. A ten year old - who would have old enough to have some memories of what happened - is eighty eight. The American soldiers who fought in that war and who liberated the camps are also disappearing. Even if the memories are recorded, it's not as strong or as vivid as hearing the personal testimony of someone who either lived through the horror to witnessed its aftermath.
Education - formal and informal - is the way to counter both the prejudice and the ignorance.
While true stories are essential to broadening the knowledge of the consequences of antisemitism, fiction also has a role to play.
With fiction, our empathies are engaged by characters we like and the challenges they face. Sometimes reading a powerful novel is the best way to emotionally pull readers into understanding a social issue. (There is a reason why Abraham Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe with starting the Civil War, with her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.)
In my novels featuring Kolya Petrov, the Jewish Russian born immigrant to the United States, I have tried to counter antisemitism by portraying a likable, courageous man who risks his life on behalf of this country - a character who a reader can identify with. In Bloody Soil, I do more than that - I sneak the history of the Holocaust into what is an otherwise thrilling adventure. And I make it personal. When we hear statistics about six million people being murdered, the number is so great that it almost doesn't have an emotional impact. But every one of those six million men, women, and children had a story, had people they loved, had hopes and dreams. To feel the true horror, we have to see some of those stories. So in Bloody Soil, the story of Kolya's great grandmother being shot in the pit known as Babi Yar - a story that Kolya heard when he was a child - makes it more real. And while she may be a fictional character, she represents the stories of the very real over thirty thousand people who were killed at Babi Yar.
I do the same with other aspects of the Holocaust - mentioning the Kindertransport - the ten thousand children who were taken by train to the UK and saved - even though most of their parents perished - the use of the term blood and soil and what it meant - the murder by fire of Jewish people - and the mass murders of the Roma and Sinti.
But recognizing that some people may not know or recognize the factual undermining to those mentions in Bloody Soil, I created a study guide that explains and expands on the narrative. It's now available on my website here and a printed version is available from me personally at a
nominal cost for book clubs or otherwise. (I'm also available to talk on zoom.)
It's up to all of us to fight back against ignorance and prejudice. The history of the Holocaust shows the consequences of a failure to do so.