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Rabbi sees reflections of Hitler in Darfur

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(CNN) -- As Rabbi Marvin Hier scans the world, he sees a need for remembrance and a call for action.

A longtime fighter of intolerance, Hier, who founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, said current crises like the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, are troublingly familiar.

He compared the conflict, where outside countries and international organizations like the United Nations have been largely ineffective in stemming the violence, to Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany prior to World War II.

"He wasn't sent there like a hurricane," he said. "It wasn't that we woke up one day and there he was."

Hitler began speaking on street corners in 1919 and took power years later, yet the world was dismissive of his aims, Hier said.

"Even when he became the chancellor of Germany, it is amazing to see that we just couldn't figure out where this is heading," he said.

"If the whole world is advised not to pay attention to these bigots and go about our business and pretend they don't exist, we'll pay a dear price later on."

Hier said he heard stories of relatives killed by the Nazis during his childhood. "I kept wondering what happened there," he said.

He graduated from rabbinical seminary in 1962 and moved to Vancouver, Canada, shortly thereafter. During a mission to Holocaust sites in the mid-1960s, he met Simon Wiesenthal, an architect who later became a famed Nazi hunter.

The encounter sparked a meditation on remembrance and history that led to the founding of the center in 1977.

"If there was a contribution that ... Jewish civilization made to the world, it is to have a special place in the world for memory," he said.

"When you remember those events and when you pass them down from generation to generation, maybe people would stand up early enough."

The center has offices across the globe devoted to fighting bigotry, hatred and antisemitism

Yet, it isn't enough to simply remember, Hier said, referring to bloody conflicts from the past and currently taking place around the world. He urged action across the human canvas; from individuals making their neighborhoods better to acting as witnesses against intolerance.

"[Biafra, Nigeria] and Cambodia and Darfur are not events that occur because God said, 'You know what? Today, we're gonna have Darfur,'" he said.

"It's because man is sitting in the bleachers and allowing it to happen, allowing evil [to] triumph and not assuming his role as a full partner in God's creation."

Heir said he has plans to open a $150 million center for human dignity in Jerusalem by 2009.

"You can't just let these haters have the turf for themselves," he said. "We tried it that way once before."


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Rabbi Marvin Hier founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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