As public relations professionals we all know that our job is to turn what is important into something interesting. The question then arises – how do we do that? What is the price the world pays for our skills? Are we making the world a better place or worse? Are we personally responsible for this? Do we need to avoid working with clients who we think are bad for the world or on the contrary, when such a client that is bad for the world comes along, is it important that we are there alongside him in order to prevent the world from coming an even worse place? I guess the greatest question is what are you more – a professional or a person of this world?
Is there a difference between propaganda and PR?
Well, in order to contemplate this use, I presume we need to go back a few years. Edward Bernays is believed to have coined the phrase ‘public relations,’ after opening his private firm and giving service to the US military. Until then, the common term was ‘propaganda.’
Bernays was well aware of the negative connotation that the word elicited due to its use by the Germans during WWII and decided to change it to ‘Public Relations – PR.’ This was no coincidence, because before him there was a cruel campaigner, the worst campaigner in the world – Goebbels. Because of Goebbels and his partners, PR got its name.
Think about it – this was a period when there was no ‘targeting’, no Facebook, or any other social media network and someone appeared and managed to build and execute the most awful campaign in the world that was aimed at pathing the way for the annihilation of the Jewish people. Being a good copywriter is nice but knowing how to execute an idea – that is a whole different ball game. And Goebbels? Goebbels knew how to execute things.
Goebbels did what PR people are supposed to do. If today media advisers sit in offices and send press releases about a new product instead of a PR professional being involved at the stage of planning the product in order for the physical product to fit into the idea and the infrastructure of the PR plan even before product the exists – Goebbels was part of that whole process. In all the big and small details, like the execution of production of cheap radio transistors that could fit into any size pocket and by that reach more ears. Years later, the Jews survived, but the impact of the engineers of the world war still remained – because antisemitism exists till this very day.
Is it still necessary to mark international Holocaust Remembrance Day?
As with every year, this year the world will remember one of the greatest disasters ever known to mankind – the Holocaust. Until today I still hear questions, more than once, about why this day is needed? Why do you need to remember something everybody already knows about?
Well, here is the reason:
- London 2018 – as I wait for the train, I started talking to a local police officer. He then asked me if its true that “Jews pray to a one-eyed snake that spits fire?”. For a second, I was shocked and then he innocently added that he saw this on a TV show. The officer did not mean to offend me, he really wanted to see if this was true.
- If that wasn’t enough, here are a few numbers. In a survey, we conducted a few years ago as part of a campaign in Poland (a survey of 311 Polish teenagers between the ages of 16-18 through an online IPSOS panel) 38% of them said Poland is not a safe place for the Jews. 23% of them had negative feelings towards Jews. Almost of tenth of those responding said Jews control the global economy and global politics. 11% said they do not know what Holocaust Remembrance Day is. 7% said the Holocaust did not occur and 21% were not sure if it occurred or not. This is how the future generation thinks and feels.
Micro-changes are as dangerous as Holocaust denial
As PR people, we often keep information to ourselves, but we do not give false information to reporters. The question is – does this sometimes cross the line? In recent years, we are witness to dangerous campaigns that are no less dangerous than Holocaust denial – sophisticated campaigns that are based on micro-changes to history. The reason for the danger in these campaigns is their sophistication.
This is a strategy by which the information that is disseminated is accompanied with “small” changes that do not amount to Holocaust denial but on the other hand, when accumulated, can have a lasting impact for future generations. It is not a coincidence that in a survey previously conducted amongst 126 Holocaust survivors, 58% of them expressed fear that the Holocaust would be forgotten.
This is a dangerous and difficult reality. Add to that the fact that Holocaust survivors suffer from post-trauma and some of them under a difficult economic reality and harsh living conditions. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors and a PR professional in recent years, I have raised over half a million dollars in funds for needy Holocaust survivors through PR campaigns I have created – and still, this is never enough.
But what is amazing is that when we arrived at survivors’ homes with food baskets or blankets – what they really wanted was to talk. A lot of these conversations ended with a stern look and a simple request – “Make sure we are not forgotten.”
Creativity thrives in survival mode: Help us keep the memory of the Shoa alive
When I arrived at the GWA ceremony as a winner of one of the categories, I could not have been prouder. But what I was even prouder of was that I won because of a project dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust. With $1220 we made the world’s first AI assisted exhibition together with Holocaust survivors, dedicated to preserving their memories. The impact was crazy with between 300 to 400 articles published around the world. Yet, real creativity develops under survival mode.
For example, when my grandfather worked for the railway company during WWII, he wrote on the last train wagon “Dangerous Diseases,” and no Nazi officer boarded that train wagon. That is where my grandfather helped Jews escape.
Today in order to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, we need such creativity like fresh air. In 2023, teenagers and youngsters are not interested in history, but rather in the future. They certainly do not read books like in the past. At the same time, in the next few years all remaining Holocaust survivors will perish, and no human testimony will remain.
Berlin 2023: I arrive at 37 Munchener Strasse and look at the memorial built for the synagogue that used to stand there. I arrived there after I stumbled upon the invitation to my grandfather’s calling to the Torah that we happened to find 50 years later, hidden in an album. (The Torah calling is a special occasion as part of the celebration held for 13-year-old Jewish boys. It occurs in a synagogue and is the first time a boy reads from the Torah, the Jewish Bible, during prayer).
Not far from where I was standing, there was a sign that remained from the Nazi era and read, “The Jews must clear the remains of the synagogue and never rebuild it.”
So, if it wasn’t clear until now – let me put it this way. Friends, there is a real danger that the Holocaust will be forgotten. I call upon you – the most brilliant minds in the world – any idea that you have to make this world a better place, and any idea you have that will help preserve the memory of the Holocaust, I would love to hear from you. Because for a better future, the past must be preserved and remembered.
This piece originally appeared as part of the IPRA thought leadership series of essays.