Storytelling has always been a part of the human experience; we use stories to teach lessons, to find joy and to remember those who are no longer with us.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which we observe Jan. 27, is an opportunity to tell stories that may be hard to hear. Through literature, music, movement and spoken word, we remember the experiences of those who survived unspeakable horrors and honor those who died at the hands of hate and intolerance. In remembering the past, we strive to build a different future.
Both our organizations have spent years trying to educate and empower more people through Holocaust education. And we know that supporting and amplifying creative works, even those that make us uncomfortable, is critical to the task of remembering that’s incumbent on all of us.
Our work has become more urgent in recent years. We didn’t expect to see the rise in Holocaust denialism and the efforts to ban books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Art Spiegelman’s Maus from classrooms. These efforts have coincided with a rise in flagrant antisemitism. The Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission’s first Study on Antisemitism found a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents against Jewish Texans since 2020 including the attempted arson at a local Austin synagogue.
Banning narrative accounts of the Holocaust fans the flames of Holocaust denial and antisemitism. When we can no longer read these works and access these ideas, our world horizons diminish, and we are susceptible to misinformed ideology. Worse yet, we begin to lose empathy for one another.
This is a moment for each of us to consider the ways we can support and invest in artistic endeavors—to consider how we can expand our world views rather than contract them. Art has the power to change hearts and minds and it is most needed now, as a tool against hate and small minded-ness.
We all play a part on the world’s stage in the fight for what is right, and through art, we have a chance to be a leading role for change.
Rabbi Daniel Septimus is the chief executive officer of Shalom Austin, the hub of Jewish life in Central Texas; choreographer Stephen Mills is Ballet Austin’s Sarah & Ernest Butler Family Fund Artistic Director, and the creator of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.
– Rabbi Daniel Septimus and Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin