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Public Radio Special: Confronting Hatred 70 Years After the Holocaust

This hour-long special, airing on public radio stations across the country, brings together a broad range of voices to talk about racism, antisemitism, and the ways in which hatred can grow. We hear from a former skinhead, an imam, a prosecutor for the Rwandan genocide trials; people speaking from many perspectives, including heavy metal singer David Draiman, filmmaker Errol Morris, and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel. Also available on iTunes.

The radio special is based on the Museum’s podcast series Voices on Antisemitism.


Host: Welcome to Confronting Hatred: 70 Years After the Holocaust, a radio special narrated by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: In the twenty-first century, any discussion of dangerous ideology must be informed by the Holocaust. The Holocaust epitomizes unchecked hatred in its most extreme form, and influences all contemporary discussions of hate speech, propaganda, and human rights.

We’re going to hear from people whose stories offer a lens into how something like the Holocaust could have happened. Because it is by understanding the process by which such events are made possible that we might hope to confront them. 

We’ll hear how easily a young boy got recruited by skinheads in Pennsylvania, how one man is working to reshape international criminal law after the genocide in Rwanda, and how both an imam and a heavy metal rock band confront hatred in their communities.

Antisemitism and other hate-based ideologies have achieved a degree of social and political traction in countries in Europe, the Middle East, and around the world. 

Hatred can become state policy, as it was during the Holocaust. But the administration of any policy on a broad scale requires the participation of many, many individuals.   In his book Ordinary Men, historian Christopher Browning looks at how ordinary Germans participated in the Holocaust: policemen, train operators, schoolteachers, even doctors. 

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING:  The Holocaust was not a tsunami. It was not an earthquake. The Holocaust was a manmade-event. People made decisions and people acted. And we couldn't understand World War II, we couldn't understand twentieth-century European history if we didn't know about the Holocaust.

MORGAN FREEMAN: It’s terrifying to process the fact that human beings perpetrated the Holocaust. It’s far more comforting to imagine it an aberration, something separate from humanity. But Browning warns against this.

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: What we must avoid is to look at the Holocaust as some kind of supernatural event, in which we don’t have to see it the human terms of the people who committed it.

I think we have to preserve the human dimensions of it. Never losing sight that the whole purpose of this is to capture the horror of what all of this means. Because of course, once you start treating the perpetrators as human beings, then you are faced with that uncomfortable awareness that: Are they fundamentally different than I am? And, in that situation, what would I have done? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Browning’s question compels us to remain vigilant of ourselves as a species. To continually look around for signs of hatred developing, to confront it where we find it, to stop it before it grows. 

Sometimes, the first act of hatred is denial—the erasure of history. 

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris spent a lot of time thinking about denial and its relationship to hatred while making his film Mr. Death in 1999. Before Morris made movies, he worked as a private investigator and he approaches his documentary subjects like a detective, focusing on tiny details and motives. 

In Mr. Death, Morris turns his camera on the Holocaust, and specifically on a guy named Fred Leuchter—a Massachusetts engineer who volunteered himself to be an expert witness for Holocaust deniers. Morris asks the simple, but uncomfortable question: “Why?”

ERROL MORRIS:  I had become fascinated by this local engineer, Fred Leuchter. He had become famous, infamous, however you want to describe it, as a designer of execution equipment. And then he was hired by a number of Holocaust deniers to go to Auschwitz to do supposedly an independent examination. And he went there, he chipped mortar and brick from the walls of the gas chambers, sent the samples to a reputable lab, issued a report known as the Leuchter Report, and concluded that poison gas had never been used at Auschwitz. 

You know, I was interested in—say Leuchter makes these claims, can we independently just show these claims to be false? And guess what—we can. They are lacking any kind of merit whatsoever. He created a confusion about what he had done, and the nature of the samples, and what they possibly showed or didn't show.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Errol Morris actually recreated Leuchter’s experiments, to expose the flaws in his analysis. Harder to pinpoint, though, was Leuchter’s motive.

ERROL MORRIS:  On some very obvious level, Fred Leuchter is an antisemite. How else would you describe somebody who claims that poison gas wasn't used at Auschwitz, who slips very easily into talking about the non-existence of other events connected with the Holocaust on the basis of no information whatsoever. How else do you describe a man like this but to describe him as an antisemite? I found it interesting to try to ask the question: okay he's an antisemite, but what do we mean by that? What does it mean when we talk about the Germans as being antisemitic? Were they all the same? What were the differences? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Errol Morris had to field some criticism for giving screen time to Leuchter. People thought he should just ignore Holocaust deniers, not give them a platform for publicity. 

ERROL MORRIS:  But, wait a second. What is the risk of trying to understand them? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: In order to confront hatred, Morris thinks we need to figure out what motivates people to participate in hatred.

ERROL MORRIS:  Anytime someone says something is false, particularly something that has overwhelming evidence behind it—someone says: the earth is flat; no one landed on the moon—it was done in a Hollywood studio; the Holocaust never happened. Ridiculous, specious claims. But there's no claim so ridiculous, so contemptible, that one shouldn't think about it, the reasons for it, and reply to it. 

I think Holocaust denial has forced us to ask all kinds of deep and pertinent questions, like why are they saying what they are saying? Why are they doing this? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Errol Morris advises us to examine the motives that drive hatred. The idea is to learn to recognize hatred escalating before it reaches a tipping point. And respond before it’s too late. 

Because genocide is not, unfortunately, a topic we can consign to the past. Genocide still happens. And the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be relevant today.

GREGORY GORDON:  I think it's important to let the world know that words kill. That they are an essential part of genocide.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Gregory Gordon helped to prosecute the landmark media cases in Rwanda, after the genocide there in 1994—when eight hundred thousand men, women, and children were slaughtered in just a hundred days by ethnic Hutu extremists and their followers. 

As Director of the Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies at the University of North Dakota, Gordon looks closely at the tools of genocide, not least of which are words.

GREGORY GORDON:  Experts have referred to stages of genocide. And, it is absolutely essential to dehumanize the victims. And you can do that through images. You can do that through words. The people become an entity by the time the perpetrators have finished doing their work. And after a while, the population becomes anesthetized to the idea of eliminating this foreign entity. The radio, the newspaper, media in general, can be used at various points. And it was used in that way in Nazi Germany. And it was used that way in Rwanda. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Some of the same racist ideas and practices developed by the Nazis played out in Rwanda in 1994. The Tutsi minority was compared to cockroaches and vermin, a cancer that had to be eliminated from society. Propaganda on the radio rallied hatred and violence.

GREGORY GORDON:  There was a radio station that people most associate with the Rwandan genocide known as RTLM, which was an extremist Hutu radio station that broadcast direct calls for people's murder. There were calls that gave information to people at roadblocks. There were broadcasts that accused Tutsis of wanting to do the very thing that the extremist Hutus were doing. And it had the effect of scaring the population and further inciting it to commit violence.

And in the end, these broadcasts had a tremendous impact on ordinary Rwandans who were called on to do horrible things—to kill their neighbors, to hack them with machetes. And there was a certain amount of mental conditioning that had to take place before they would be willing or capable to do that. The radio was key to that. 

[radio excerpt in Kinyarwandan: Muze twishime nshuti….]

MORGAN FREEMAN: “Come on and rejoice friends…,” sings the voice on the radio. “If we exterminate all the cockroaches, nobody will judge us.”

It is possible to anticipate the conditions that can lead to genocide. In fact, the years preceding the Holocaust practically chart them for us. The question is what to do with the information. How do we take action to prevent a catastrophe, when we see one taking shape?

GREGORY GORDON: Criminal incitement is not just a direct call in explicit terms to kill people. It rarely consists of that. It usually consists of more indirect calls that are understood by the listener as calls for killing or destruction. And we are told to look at the purpose, the text, the context, and the relationship between the speaker and the subject. 

We don't want another genocide to take place. And when we see these red flags going up, when we see these warning signs, we have to act.

MORGAN FREEMAN: That was Professor Gregory Gordon, who served on the prosecution for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 

Host:  You’re listening to Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust, narrated by Morgan Freeman, a production of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.

If you missed any part of this radio special, or would like to share it with others, you can find the full hour at iTunes and at the Holocaust Museum’s website, where you’ll also find more than a hundred related interviews and free educational materials.

After the break, we’ll look at how hatred develops. Frank Meeink talks to us about his five years in the neo-Nazi movement. And we’ll hear from an imam, a high school teacher, and a heavy metal rock star. Stay with us.


Host: This is Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust, a radio special narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Since the Holocaust, there have been many studies on bystander behavior. A number of famous experiments have tried to make sense of the way people sometimes do…nothing. Participate passively, silently in moral crimes. 

Elie Wiesel is a Holocaust survivor, author, teacher, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He’s devoted his entire life to advancing human dignity, fighting injustice and apathy all over the world.

In 1999, Wiesel spoke before an audience at the White House, about the perils of indifference. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

ELIE WIESEL: Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope, is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Elie Wiesel’s eloquent words have summoned attention to some of the most devastating acts of injustice around the world. 

But next, he tells a personal story. In 2007, Wiesel was attacked at a hotel in San Francisco, by a young man who wanted him to declare that the Holocaust never happened.

ELIE WIESEL: That person attacked me, okay. And when he attacked me, I didn't know why he was attacking me. It was only later when we read his own confession that he wanted to take me into his custody, quote/unquote, to make me confess that the Holocaust didn't occur. That man is a 22-year-old boy, American born. And his agenda, his commitment to what we consider falsehood is as strong as our commitment to our truth. That's why he attacked me. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Wiesel was physically assaulted in the hotel hallway. But later, when it was over, he registered the passive assault that had also occurred, quietly, all around him.

ELIE WIESEL: And I began shouting, literally howling. I've never heard myself howl like that—"Help, help, help!" I must have shouted for three minutes. Not one door opened. Then when I went down to the security people, they said, "Three people called us that they heard your shouts." Three—there must have been 20, 30, because it was 6:00 in the evening—but not one door opened. So how can you not feel discouraged? 

I fought all my life against indifference. What have I done with all of my work? Trying to wake people up. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Still, rather than linger on despair about his attacker and the silent bystanders, Wiesel chooses to focus his energy on schoolchildren, who send him letters by the hundreds. 

ELIE WIESEL: I'm looking here, oh this here, this is, there are envelopes from children—high school, high school, high school. And I answer every one of them. They all get answered. And you know something, they have priority. My secretary knows. Whoever writes, children have priority. May be important people, very important people, highest people—children come first.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Wiesel has held counsel with heads of state across the globe. But his dedication to the effort of inspiring young people might be well-placed. Because next, we’re going to look at how hatred develops. And often, it begins developing in childhood. 

As a kid, Frank Meeink did not feel inspired or encouraged by the adults in his life. He describes himself as a “mistake between two young drug addicts.” Alienated and angry, he was an easy recruit for the local skinheads in Pennsylvania. Here’s Frank Meeink’s story.

FRANK MEEINK:  Yeah, I got into the white supremacist movement when I was about 14. I went from living in my mom's neighborhood in South Philly to my father's neighborhood up in Southwest Philly and I had to change schools, and the school I went to was mainly an all black school, where the white kids had to fistfight a lot. And that summer I went up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where my cousin lived, and he was part of this skinhead thing. And I was just completely attracted to it in a way. 

You know these guys, when I first started coming around, would talk to me and ask me about basically how my life was. And I was never asked those things by my parents. I was never asked "How was school today, son?" or "How was math class today?" "Do you have a girlfriend?" I mean, I was just kind of there. 

So, one night, when we went to one of them concerts and everyone was fearing the skinheads and I'm standing with them and I still have hair on my head, that night after we got done with the concert everyone was talking about the fights, and about how they had to protect me because I had hair on my head. And this one guy just said, "Yo, when are you gonna shave that crap off your head?" And that was it. Now again, I don't want to give them like they were these genius recruiters. They were just older males, 16…17 year-old kids who wanted more numbers and liked me. And when you don't have much at home, anyone that gives you even a Saltine, it sure does fill that appetite. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Nearly every hate group has young people right at the center. The Nazis invested heavily in the Hitler Youth. Boys were given uniforms and rankings. It’s tempting for a kid, that camaraderie, that feeling of power. It was tempting for Frank Meeink. 

FRANK MEEINK:  The fear in people's eyes of the skinheads, I loved that, you know, because from when I was 10 until 14, I feared everything. I feared school. I feared home. I feared if I was going to have enough food to eat. I feared everything. And now someone finally feared me, and I loved that feeling.

Violence was our camaraderie. That was how we got our loyalty to each other. That’s how we felt stronger in our pack, is when we did horrible things to other human beings. And it could be from going to the homeless section in Philadelphia and beating people up like they do in the movie A Clockwork Orange, or going and spray painting a synagogue. 

Out of the 200, 300 acts of violence that I was part of in the movement, 90 percent of it, I never once felt a thing. And I know that sounds sick to people. But there was times I remember when we would get done and I would look down at another human being and think, that could have been a friend. But very quickly I would wash that away from my brain, because I don't want to feel guilt. I don't want to feel that feeling, you know? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Eventually Frank Meeink went to jail, for aggravated kidnapping. Perhaps surprisingly, he gained a level of tolerance behind bars—or at least a sense of shared fate—with the African Americans, Asians, and Latinos he encountered there. But, out on parole at age 19, he was still an active antisemite.

FRANK MEEINK: And I'm holding on to this last hatred of Jewish people, and then a Jewish guy gives me a job. And no one would hire me. I had a big swastika tattooed on my neck. These ain't good people skills. So this Jewish guy gives me a job working at an antique show. So I worked for him all weekend and he's supposed to pay me $300. But I made $600 in tips. So I think in my antisemitic way, he was going to “Jew me." So I already have this whole argument planned out, how I'm going to scream this at him, he's going to say this back at me. And he walks up to me and he says, "Here, here's $300. Here's what I owe you." And he says, "You know what? Here's an extra hundred bucks. You're a really good worker." And when he pays me this extra $100, all I can think in my head was, "You son of a gun. You're ruining it." Because I didn't want to be wrong. A nineteen-year-old kid does not want to believe that what he believes is wrong. It hurts the conscience. 

And then he gave me a ride back to Philly and he said, "Hey, what do you do for a living?" And I said, "Nothing." And he said, "Why don't you come work for me?" And then I look down, and I had my Doc Martins on with my red laces, which meant I was a neo-Nazi, and I was just truly embarrassed, so embarrassed of my beliefs. This was it. I was completely wrong and I had to admit it. 

And I went and worked for this…extremely great man. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Frank Meeink went on to work with the Jewish antique dealer for a few years after that first meeting.

In 1997, Meeink got his swastika tattoo removed by a doctor who lost family in the Holocaust. He wrote a memoir called Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead. And these days, he runs an organization to teach kids hockey and conflict resolution.

Meeink says the first step in confronting hatred is to get people with different backgrounds to come together, to learn something about each other. 

And that’s what’s happening in this next story, in the Baltimore high school classroom of Rabbi Gila Ruskin.  

RABBI GILA RUSKIN:  There is a school in downtown Baltimore called St. Frances Academy. And it's a Catholic school. The population of students is almost exclusively African American. It started out as a school to teach slaves to read—illegally. So, it's been around since 1823. And I taught 11th grade, what they call Jewish studies.

So my job was to teach about the Jewish view of the Bible, Jewish culture—so I taught them all about the holidays. We sang songs; we lit candles; we had grape juice to welcome Shabbat. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Rabbi Ruskin ran a program that matched up 20 St. Frances students, with 20 students from a nearby Jewish school.  

RABBI GILA RUSKIN:  And I remember this one boy—this will always stay with me. He's big and brawny. And he was a poet—I knew him well, because he was in my creative writing class—a real gentle, poetic soul. And he…it was so poignant what he said, he said, "You know, when I walk down the street, people cross the street to get away from me." And he said that that has such a profound effect on his identity. And the Jewish kids really responded to that. A lot of their common experience was one of—not persecution exactly—but prejudice, I would say.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Because St. Frances is a private school, students come from all over Baltimore. Some have to take two or even three buses, wearing their not-so-tough-looking school uniforms.

RABBI GILA RUSKIN:  Many of them would get beat up on the buses, and taunted by the kids their age who had dropped out of school. Many of their best friends were now into the drug world. And the other thing is that these kids deal with violent death. It's like, in their world all the time. And it was something they all had to deal with, in one way or another. 

So when we did study the Holocaust at the end of the year, I brought in several Holocaust survivors to speak with them. And they responded to these people with their whole hearts. I mean, they identified with them to such a great extent. Someone in the class would always end up saying, "If you could make it, I can." In one way or another, that was their response to these people who would come in and tell the story about "When I was your age I was in the forest, trying to run away from the Nazis" or "When I was your age I was in a concentration camp." You know, they would say that to the kids. And I think all kids respond to that, but these kids in particular, saw them really as role models and inspiring to them. 

So they really did identify with the Holocaust a great deal. They knew that it wasn't a holocaust they were living through as African American kids in America, but there were elements of it that just resonated with them. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Rabbi Ruskin no longer teaches high school. She now leads a congregation in a small town, north of Baltimore. But every Friday she still gets Facebook messages from former St. Frances students posting: "Shabbat shalom, Rabbi."

Host: You’re listening to Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust, narrated by Morgan Freeman, a production of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.

If you missed any part of this radio special, or would like to share it with others, you can find the full hour at iTunes and at the Holocaust Museum’s website, where you’ll also find more than a hundred related interviews and free educational materials.

After the break—when hatred has already taken root, what then? Heavy metal singer David Draiman has a response. Along with Imam Mohammed Magid, sociologist David Pilgrim, and others.


Host: This is Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust, a radio special narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

[Never Again… Never Again… Wooh, oooh, ooh….]

MORGAN FREEMAN: As a kid, heavy metal singer David Draiman got into fistfights over Jewish jokes. Now frontman for the band Disturbed, he fights back with words—and gives his eleven million Facebook fans something to talk about—with his song “Never Again.”

DAVID DRAIMAN: Unfortunately there are certain factions that feel that aggressive music in general is an excuse for people to bash their heads in the walls. But there are plenty of bands who really wear their heart on their sleeves.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Hate groups have also used aggressive music to rally their audiences. But Draiman’s music channels that energy against hatred.

DAVID DRAIMAN: Even though the style is aggressive, you're writing about subject matter that’s very, very close to your person and you're writing about subject matter that isn't flighty.

You take a song like, for instance, “Never Again”—it's kind of in your face.

[You dare to tell me that there never was a Holocaust You think that history will leave their memory lost Another Hitler, using fear to control You're going to fail this time, for the world to see]

MORGAN FREEMAN: In case you missed those lyrics, they include this line: “You dare to tell me there never was a Holocaust, you think that history will leave their memory lost.” 

DAVID DRAIMAN: Both of my grandparents on my mother’s side of the family are survivors of the camps. My grandfather was on wheelbarrow duty in Bergen Belsen. It was his job to cart the bodies to the crematorium. My grandmother was a little girl in Auschwitz. And you just see everything that’s happening in the media, you see people trying to stir up a campaign of Jewish conspiracy. And I look at my grandmother, who still has the tattoo on her left forearm, and I realize that an entire generation, the last generation of people who are living who can say “This actually happened to me” are about to be lost to us. And I just wanted to do something to let it be known that this is something that was real, something that happened, and it not only affected the Jewish people, it affected many people, but it's certainly something that shouldn’t be forgotten. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Draiman’s family says he got his singing voice from his great-grandfather, who was a head cantor in Jerusalem. And he actually studied to be a rabbi at one point, but decided instead to speak his truth to thousands of hardcore heavy-metal fans. 

DAVID DRAIMAN: The fans have been very receptive to it, very embracing of it. I'm certainly proud of what it says and certainly proud of what it's done.

You know, sometimes, lighter music just isn't appropriate for what you're feeling.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Earlier in this hour, we heard Elie Wiesel talk about the dangers of apathy, and silence. Now, we’re hearing from individuals who are taking action—speaking out and pushing back against hatred. 

We all have a role to play, to call out injustice where we see it.

David Draiman raises his voice from the stage, loudly. Imam Mohammed Magid speaks more softly—but no less firmly—from his position on the executive counsel of the Islamic Society of North America.

IMAM MOHAMED MAGID: I did not plan to be an imam in America, it just happened. It's very interesting, your colleagues in America, they are not fellow imams who are around you. The closest place to me now is the synagogue and the church. And therefore, my colleagues become the rabbi and the Lutheran pastor, those are my colleagues. I discuss things with them; I talk to them about issues that concern the community.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Magid first came to the States from Sudan to be the donor for his father’s kidney transplant. The kidney doctor was Jewish. The surgeon was Egyptian. Magid and his father befriended them both. 

IMAM MOHAMED MAGID: And when he passed away in 1990, both doctors were giving me comfort. And therefore it becomes personal to me, because I get to know Jewish people in terms of friendship. And you ask yourself why people allow antisemitism? Why a Muslim would justify hatred against a group of people? 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Magid has made it his personal mission to confront antisemitism, and to push back against those who would justify hatred against any group of people. He wanted to be a voice of tolerance and reason amid extremism.  

IMAM MOHAMED MAGID: That's why I really get upset when somebody appoint themselves as preacher or teacher in Internet, for example, and he or she teach hate, you know, bigotry or antisemitism. Because when you are clergy, you really become responsible for people's souls. And every word you say, it counts.

MORGAN FREEMAN: In 2010, Magid and a group of prominent Muslim leaders visited the Nazi concentration camps in Poland and Germany.

Magid was affected deeply by his trip to Auschwitz. He was transformed by the evidence of evil he witnessed there.

IMAM MOHAMED MAGID: When you are in that place, then you get transformed because you can see what evil can do and, when people are silent about it, which extent it can go. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Magid says that small actions matter, even if they might make you a target for criticism or intimidation.

IMAM MOHAMED MAGID: Every time you take a stand, some people have websites against you, some people call you "a sell-out," somebody call you "not real Muslims." We are hidden Jews or something like that. But you have to be firm in your position, because history is not kind to people who were silent when they see wrong things have taken place. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: At Auschwitz, Magid encouraged his fellow imams to sign the visitor’s book, in Arabic.

When hatred is allowed to proceed unchecked, it can become the status quo. That was certainly the case in Nazi Germany, where swastikas, propaganda films, racist songs and schoolbooks completely infiltrated culture. 

In this country, different symbols of hatred became status quo, during Jim Crow-era segregation, when anti-black caricatures could be found on syrup bottles, ashtrays, kids cartoons—all sorts of everyday places. 

DAVID PILGRIM: When I used to think of propaganda, I thought of it as leaflets and posters. And then it hit me one day that an ashtray with a caricatured image of a member of an ethnic group can be as much propaganda as a leaflet or poster or print. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: That’s sociologist David Pilgrim, who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, at the tail-end of Jim Crow. As a young man, Pilgrim started collecting racist memorabilia at local carnivals and antique shows. He felt these simple, household items had a corrosive impact on society. 

DAVID PILGRIM: I think the most effective propaganda is when people don't realize that that is what is going on, when they think they're just playing a game or just using an ashtray.

When you reduce hatred to game playing, you give a level of legitimacy to it that is mind-boggling. So when you turn and you look at that game, that toy, that ashtray—these everyday objects with a function—they become everyday ways to convince people that a racial hierarchy made sense. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: In an attempt to shed light on the ways hatred can become the norm, Pilgrim opened the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan. Pilgrim says he hopes to use these objects—what he calls “contemptible collectibles” to teach people about tolerance. But it’s not always easy. 

DAVID PILGRIM: What you discover is, is that people looking at the same thing come up with very, very, very different interpretations of what it is they're seeing. And so the one person when he looks at Little Black Sambo says: "That reminds me of a vestige of segregation and slavery. And it hurts me." And then someone else looks at that and they say: "That's a cute, clever little boy. And reading that story just reminds me of wholesome, good times with my father, and oatmeal." 

MORGAN FREEMAN: Pilgrim says he used to want to scream at people, when they couldn’t see offense in his collectibles. He wanted to confront hatred with indignation. 

DAVID PILGRIM: But I don’t, and I’ve gotten much better over the years in finding where people are, trying to understand where they are, so you have meaningful dialogue. My fear is not that people won't think the way I do or agree with my values; it is that they won't talk about these things at all. 

As corny and trite as it sounds, I think that antisemitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia…I think those things undermine democracy. I think they make of democracy a lie. I mean as long as we have these "us versus thems," and as long as people are hurt in our society and others think that's their problem, then we undermine this nation. So the trick is, is to figure out a way to get people that are not themselves directly hurt to believe that they are a part of the same "We." And that for me has been the thrust of what it is I've spent my life trying to do; trying to make the "We" bigger. 

MORGAN FREEMAN: That was Professor David Pilgrim from the Jim Crow Museum in Michigan. 

In our final interview this hour, German filmmaker Mo Asumang confronts hatred in the most literal way. She talks with people, face to face. 

MO ASUMANG:  I set out to find out about racism, how racism works, and I go out and meet racists and neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and I talk to these people.

MORGAN FREEMAN: She goes to nationalist parades and anti-immigration rallies in Germany. She meets with white supremacists in the American South. She walks up to strangers with her camera crew and just begins a conversation. 

The Aryans clip:  Mo: Do you know where the rally is? Woman at bar: Yup, it’s right down the road. Look for a tractor with a rebel flag on it. And it’s right up the little dirt road on your right. Mo: Thank you. Woman at bar: You’re welcome. Y’all have a great day.

MORGAN FREEMAN: In this clip from her 2014 film The Aryans, Asumang shows up at an assembly of the Ku Klux Klan, in the woods of Virginia, in the middle of the night.

The Aryans clip:  Mo: Couldn’t you solve your problem in a different way? Klan Guy: We don’t…, what problem do we solve? Mo: Couldn’t you just talk to Black people? Klan Guy: Me personally, I’ve talked to them and they tried jumping me. Mo: I didn’t jump on you! Klan Guy: No, not you. Mo: So as I understand it, the Klan is more as a protection, out of fear? Klan Guy: No, it’s not out of fear. Mo: Out of…? Klan Guy: Out of belief.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Growing up as a mixed-race child in Germany, Asumang has been confronted with racism for as long as she can remember. 

MO ASUMANG:  My father, he came from Ghana in the '60s, and my father was a student in Germany in the city of Kassel, and my mother she lived there and they met in the tram. And, yes, they came together.... And when I was two years old, they have been throwing us out of the house where my mother and my grandmother lived for many, many years because of the color of my father and because of my color. So...these things, yeah, influenced my life very much.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Asumang was one of the first women of color to become a television presenter in Germany. And she was targeted by a neo-Nazi rock band, which wrote a song lyric: “This bullet is for you, Mo Asumang.” 

It was a public death threat. But it emboldened her, and became the catalyst for the first of three documentary films she would make about race and identity. Asumang believes film has real power to encourage change.

MO ASUMANG:  Well, first of all, I am creating the picture. The picture—on one side, there is a racist or neo-Nazi or Ku Klux Klan, and on the other side, there's me, the Black person. It could be also a Jewish person or could be a Muslim. But I’m creating the picture: We can talk. And if you see these moments, it helps you to believe in a change. If you never see that it's happening, then you cannot even imagine that we can make a change. I mean through a movie, it's not very much, but it's a beginning.

The Aryans clip:  Mo: You are wearing history. You are wearing hundreds of years of threat and terror. Klan: This is more for ceremonial purposes. Mo: And what’s going on in the ceremony, can you tell me? Klan: We light a cross. Mo: Why? Klan: To resemble the light of Jesus Christ, going from darkness to light. Mo: Jesus loves also Black people, don’t you think so?

MORGAN FREEMAN: Asumang concedes that her tactics for confronting hatred so directly are not for everyone. But she is inspired by the incredible change she witnessed in her own family, when her grandmother—a former Nazi party member, who worked for the SS—came face to face with a black grandchild.

MO ASUMANG:  My mother, she told me when she told my grandmother there's a baby going to be born and the baby's going to be black, that my grandmother said she wanted to jump in front of the tram and kill herself. But then when she saw me, even though she was at the SS, when she saw me, there was an emotional moment, and this emotional moment was human. There was a baby, and she was a woman. She felt like a mother. So she took care of me. So I think, through this in my personal history, I am really very, very sure that every person, even if the person has been to the SS, can change, but we have to bring it to a personal level.   Yeah, my grandmother, through her story and my story, she really gave me a good kick in that direction. "This will work. Go ahead, talk to people, and that will work." 

MORGAN FREEMAN: That was filmmaker Mo Asumang.

We’ve been talking this hour about hatred, why it matters, how it develops, and what can be done to confront it. 

Historian Christopher Browning urges us to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, to remember the harm that human beings are capable of perpetrating. 

Former skinhead Frank Meeink reminds us how susceptible young people can be to the camaraderie and feelings of power that hate groups promise.

Imam Mohamed Magid encourages us speak out on behalf of the other. 

And Mo Asumang tells us keep trying, to confront hatred in whatever ways we can.

Here again is Elie Wiesel, speaking at his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

ELIE WIESEL: When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

MORGAN FREEMAN: Taken together, these voices call on us to recognize our shared humanity, to care about injustice even when we, ourselves, are not the target of injustice. To look beyond our immediate communities, to broaden the base of concern, and of strength. So that no one has to confront hatred alone. 

Host: You’ve been listening to Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust, with narrator Morgan Freeman. This program is a production of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.

If you missed any part of this radio special, or would like to share it with others, you can find the full hour at iTunes and at the Holocaust Museum’s website, where you’ll also find more than a hundred related interviews and free educational materials.

Confronting Hatred: 70 Years after the Holocaust was produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and independent producer Melissa Allison. Interviews were conducted by Aleisa Fishman and Daniel Greene. Music was composed and performed by Stellwagen Symphonette. Archival audio provided by Mo Asumang, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, and the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. 

Funding for this hour was provided by the Elizabeth and Oliver Stanton Foundation, which supports the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and its Voices on Antisemitism podcast series, where interviews in this radio special originally appeared.