BERLIN — Of all the upsetting images broadcast around the world as a violent mob overran the United States Capitol in Washington, the one that particularly distressed Dr. Eva Umlauf, 78, a pediatrician and psychotherapist who survived Auschwitz as a toddler, was of a bearded man wearing a black hoodie emblazoned with “Camp Auschwitz.”
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Dr. Umlauf said. “It really broke a taboo. I never would have believed that was possible from Americans.”
That image made its rounds through social media and was pointed out in newspapers from Britain to Germany to Poland as an example of who was in the mob that rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, and what they thought about a place considered by many as a symbol of a low point for humanity.
It had particular resonance as anti-Semitism and far-right nationalism are on the rise worldwide. And for people who survived the Nazi death camp like Dr. Umlauf, there was added pain with the realization that later generations may not have learned the lessons of the Holocaust.
Dr. Umlauf was only 2 years old when Auschwitz was liberated; the number the Nazis tattooed on her arm — A-26959 — is visible to this day. Her mother also survived, and they returned to their home in Slovakia, where the daughter attended medical school. She moved to Munich in the 1960s, when she got married, and raised three sons there.
One of them married an American woman and moved to the United States, where he has lived for the past 30 years, she said.
It wasn’t just the sweatshirt, she said. Seeing the windows broken in the Capitol, the statues defaced and lawmakers’ papers strewn across the floor symbolized a deep disregard for the democracy that long served as a beacon in dark corners of the world. “They trampled on democratic principles in the heart of democracy,” she said.
“As Jews, we tried to get our children to America so they could live in freedom and safety,” she continued. “What happened in that country is only one step away from totalitarianism.”
The day before the protests, an incoming member of Congress, Representative Mary Miller, Republican of Illinois, praised Hitler for his campaign in indoctrinating youth, in a speech before the Capitol as part of a Moms for America rally. She issued an apology on Friday, amid calls for her resignation.
For many Auschwitz survivors, January is an especially difficult month, bringing back haunting memories of the death marches that many of the camp were forced on and of the final terrible days before Auschwitz was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945, said Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, a group founded by survivors to prevent another Auschwitz. That only worsened the impact of the images.
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“These photos are sickening to those of us who are survivors,” said Eva Fahidi, who was deported with her family in 1944 to Auschwitz, where her parents and sister perished. “The idea that someone would wear such a shirt on their own body is horrifying.”
That it was an American made it even worse, she said. Although she has experienced what she described as a “renaissance” of anti-Semitism in the past two decades, for her the United States always remained an exception.
After all, she said, it was the Americans who freed her when the U.S. Army liberated in central Germany where she had been moved by the Nazis and forced to work at a munitions factory.
“Americans and freedom, they were one and the same,” she said from her home in Budapest. “They were synonymous.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which preserves the site of the original concentration and extermination camp and educates the public about its history, looks for discussions about the camp and how it is portrayed in public debate. When officials noticed the discussion about the sweatshirt on their social media channels, they weighed in with a link to a history lesson about the camp.
The debate also focused attention on sites that were selling the sweatshirts and other items of clothing with anti-Semitic symbols or sayings, prompting people to reach out to them and request they be removed, said Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the memorial.
“Thousands of people also opened the online lesson about the history of Auschwitz we shared,” Mr. Sawicki said. “So there is hope that the controversial situation will also raise some historical awareness.”
Not every survivor was shocked by the image. Marian Turski, who survived Auschwitz and a death march, said the experiences he had while traveling in the Deep South during the Civil Rights movement exposed him to the racism and hatred harbored by some white Americans.
In 1965, while on a fellowship in the United States, he marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Selma, Ala., and had his car burned in Mississippi, because he rode together with a black man.
While in the South, he said, many people would ask him whether, as a Holocaust survivor, he thought that something like what happened in Germany under the Nazis could ever be possible in the United States.
“I told them yes, it would be possible,” he said from his home in Warsaw. “Nationalism and fascism were not exclusively German. Under the right conditions and circumstances, it could also happen here.”
He also told them that the best barrier against racism and nationalism was the defense of democracy, he said.
On Friday, he expressed hope that after witnessing the events of Wednesday, more Americans might be inspired to take action against attempts to weaken democracy.
“Occupying the capital — maybe this was a very good lesson for the American people,” Mr. Turski said. “Maybe it will strengthen the will to defend democracy.”