Rabbi Cooper speaking virtually in Berlin on 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference
Rabbi Cooper speaking virtually in Berlin on 80th anniversary of the Wannsee ConferenceSimon Wiesenthal Center

This year, International Holocaust Remembrance Day comes a week after the 80th anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference, where 15 high level governmental officials, like architects of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann and Reinhard Heydrich, convened to implement “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” They drank cognac at a lakeshore villa in Wannsee, using terms like “evacuation” and “reduction” in an attempt to downplay their genocidal intent. In just 90 minutes, plans for the Holocaust were set in motion.

On January 20, religious leaders from all over the world gathered to attend a panel discussion hosted by The European Coalition for Israel and Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin about antisemitism. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke virtually. He highlighted chilling parallels between the climate of the 1930’s and today, and explained that the Wannsee Conference was a warning.

Rabbi Cooper stated, “The Wannsee Conference was little known for many, many decades because it was a secret conference to begin with.” He explained that when Eichmann was on trial for orchestrating the Shoah in Jerusalem, he told the court that Heydrich was concerned some of the 15 top ministers of state, eight of whom had doctorate degrees, might be opposed to the idea of the “final solution.” When it was surprisingly unanimously accepted, “He (Heydrich) was quite pleased to see that these individuals were enthusiastic about supporting the idea of getting rid of 11 million Jews in Europe by the cheapest, most efficient means possible.”

Some lessons learned from the Wannsee Conference are that governments can be weaponized to cause genocide, to never confuse the level of someone’s education with their integrity, and that there are people who are shockingly capable of committing unimaginable evil. Throughout history, this never changes.

Rabbi Cooper told of how, in 1980, he was present when a college student asked Nazi hunter and humanitarian, Simon Wiesenthal, if the Holocaust could ever happen again. He remembered Wiesenthal responding, “When you have organized hate by a government, a crisis, and technology, anything is possible.”

The technology Wiesenthal referred to was radio and Nazi propaganda films, some of which are available on the internet today and are still being utilized to foment antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

Referencing social media, Rabbi Cooper commented, “There are no fact checkers and no filters, except for when it comes to political stances that the companies want to take.” Nazis used to paint Jews as spreaders of diseases, like typhus. Today, Jews are being blamed for the Covid 19 pandemic; accusations of Jews orchestrating the virus in order to wipe out the gentiles and achieve world domination rum rampant online. Israel is also typically portrayed as an apartheid country and Zionists as Nazis on social media. Rabbi Cooper continued, “You don’t see any serious concern or attention by the social media giants to take those perpetrators down, and it’s a real problem.”

Another problem is the U.S. administration’s continual acquiescence to Iran. On January 20, the U.N. adopted an Israeli resolution co-sponsored by 114 countries that condemns Holocaust denial. Iran was the only country that opposed the resolution, but they couldn’t vote on it because of delinquent UN dues. Rabbi Cooper explained that the U.S. permitted Iran to use $18 million that came from oil they sold to South Korea to pay for their dues. “The American administration, which is against holocaust denial, made it possible for Iran to vote against a bill denouncing Holocaust denial,” Rabbi Cooper stated. All the while, the Ayatollah Kumani’s Holocaust denying tweets, as well as his tweets calling for “the elimination of the Zionist regime” remain up.

Regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rabbi Cooper said, “We appreciate that when individuals, when schools, when cities and countries and diplomats and the EU and the United Nations, Washington, have moments of silence for six million dead Jews…but give some thought to the fate of the living Jews…(in) places where there are antisemitic acts, including violent acts, especially in NY… It’s appropriate to look back at the lessons of the past, but they have to be applied in real time.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center will be co-hosting a global webinar with the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence in Bahrain on International Holocaust Memorial Day. There will be presentations from Israel President, Isaac Herzog, former Israeli Chief Rabbi and Holocaust Survivor Yisrael Lau, former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders from Indonesia, the Gulf and USA.