Some 10,000 people from all over the world gathered last week in Poland for the annual March of the Living, a 2-mile walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where Nazis murdered over a million civilians – mostly Jews – during World War II.
One of the most famous marchers was Meek Mill, a 35-year-old African American rapper from Philadelphia without any prior connection to the atrocities that happened there.
But at a time of rising antisemitism in the US, his presence spoke volumes, and that was the point.
“I always stand on anything that condemns racism, but now that I had an education, I’ll definitely spread the word to people in my culture about what I’ve seen and what I felt at that concentration camp today,” Mill told CNN during the march.
Mill is a friend of New England Patriots owner and philanthropist Robert Kraft, whose Foundation to Combat Antisemitism is in the midst of a $25 million national campaign, #StandUpToJewishHate. The effort, identified by a blue square emoji, includes paid television ads that share stories of antisemitic incidents in the US, which are on an alarming rise.
Data from the Anti-Defamation League traces a spike in recent incidents against Jews to repeated, hateful comments by rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, who is unapologetic about his pro-Hitler, anti-Jewish language.
“We are two different artists. We represent two different things,” Mill said.
Mill said he “wasn’t educated to even know right from wrong” when Ye was making his remarks.
“But I know a lot of the things he was saying was wrong because it sounded like hate,” Mill said. “Now that I’m educated to a small degree, because I’m at the beginning point, just, you know, spreading the word for humanity. Pushing the cause.”
Kraft got to know Mill during the rap artist’s 12-year legal fight stemming from an arrest on gun and drug charges when he was 19 years old.
The two were introduced by a mutual friend, according to a Kraft spokesperson, and Meek would occasionally reach out to the Patriots owner for some friendly advice. When Meek was incarcerated, Kraft visited him in prison, and the two stayed in touch and have remained friends.
Mill’s case helped spur activism among many high-profile figures, including Kraft, on the issue of criminal justice.
“It’s important for me to learn humanity’s history,” Mill said. “But I think it’s also important for me to support Robert, all my Jewish friends, everyone that always supported me. Robert supported me at a very high level. When I was going through what I was going through, he learned my lifestyle. He learned my cultures, where I come from, my background.”
Mill said he went to Auschwitz to “see this for myself and learn about it for myself,” describing what he saw there as “terror, pain, something you can’t really explain.”
“He’s a man who’s very caring, and it’s very important to him to build bridges between people of the Jewish faith and people of color in America,” Kraft said of Mill.
“He’s a sensitive man who has gone through some difficult situations where he wasn’t treated fairly. And I think for him to understand the culture of our people, what we’ve gone through and how many of the experiences are similar – where people, for no good reason, just stand up and hate,” added Kraft.
Mill not only toured Auschwitz and took part in the March of the Living, but he also participated in events around the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Poland. The popular artist has nearly 25 million Instagram followers and said he now intends to use his megaphone to make sure his fans understand that all hate – whether racism against Blacks or antisemitism – is rooted in the same ignorance and cannot be tolerated.
“Through my music, I always use my platforms. I come from the ghettos of America – from the streets. That’s what I started talking about because that was my lifestyle,” Mill said.
“But through education and learning more and seeing more, I think I would be able to deliver some things that will touch on moments like this and be able to express and tell a story about what I witnessed and what I’ve seen.”