Vishal P. Singh
Who is Gidon Lev? Well, on his website, he describes himself as a rascal, a Holocaust survivor, and an optimist. In that order. Gidon Lev was only six years old when he and his family were imprisoned by the Nazis at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He would lose 26 members of his family to the Holocaust, including his father Ernst, who died while being moved from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. His mother was forced into slave labor. At the age of ten, in 1945, the Red Army liberated the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Lev and his mother made it to the United States, then Canada. In 1959, he moved to Israel.
Nowadays, though, you need only check TikTok to find Gidon Lev— who runs a profile with his partner Julie Gray focused on combatting antisemitism and educating youth about the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. A recent survey revealed an alarming trend among young people in the United States: extreme lack of knowledge regarding the Holocaust.
A nationwide survey released Wednesday shows a "worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge" among adults under 40, including over 1 in 10 respondents who did not recall ever having heard the word "Holocaust" before. The survey, touted as the first 50-state survey of Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z, showed that many respondents were unclear about the basic facts of the genocide. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and over half of those thought the death toll was fewer than 2 million. Over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos were established during World War II, but nearly half of U.S. respondents could not name a single one.
Most recently: Gidon Lev went viral for a TikTok video where he offered his solidarity with the transgender community in the wake of a Republican genocide campaign against transgender and non-binary existence. In response to an TikTok video comparing Republican attacks against transgender rights to the Holocaust, Lev spoke firmly into the camera: “Do you know what I think about this as a Holocaust survivor? Trans rights are [the] same as human rights. And I stand with the trans community.” Lev is not the only Holocaust expert who thinks these Holocaust comparisons are valid.
Due to the current anti-LGBTQ+ climate in the United States, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Holocaust museum in New York, recently hosted a panel to discuss the history of transgender experiences in Weimar and Nazi Germany leading up to the Holocaust. “Transgender people are now increasingly targets of discriminatory legislation and hate,” they write.
“Before 1933, Germany was a center of LGBTQ+ community and culture, with several renowned organizations serving and supporting trans and gender non-conforming people. Hitler’s Nazi government, however, brutally targeted the trans community, deporting many trans people to concentration camps and wiping out vibrant community structures.”
The ACLU is currently tracking over 400 bills being proposed across the United States targeting LGBTQ+ rights this year alone. The legislative blitzkrieg has experts also drawing comparisons to genocide, like in Florida, where these bills are becoming draconian laws restricting basic human rights— especially for transgender and non-binary people.
While Republicans and far-right figures who push anti-trans hate decry any accusations of genocide as hyperbolic— it’s experts and Holocaust survivors who are emphasizing how Holocaust and Nazi history can inform this embattled period for transgender and non-binary rights.