International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Auschwitz, liberation and heroes

“There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself … and that is if the world forgets there was such a place.”

-Auschwitz Survivor Henry Appel

Rows of candles on silver shelving

Candles lit for an earlier International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27: Light a candle and reflect on “The Holocaust and Human Dignity,” as the United Nations ushers in this year’s worldwide International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The commemoration was designated by the UN General Assembly in November 2005 and first observed the following year, although other Holocaust days for remembrance existed for decades before that. This year, President Barack Obama will take part in a ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.—the first ceremony of its kind to be held in the U.S.—that honors four non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. Across the globe, millions of schools, governments, associations and civic groups will host their own commemorations.

Why this date? On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau is located in Poland and was the site of more than 1 million Holocaust deaths.

In 2016, the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust hosts the theme, “The Holocaust and Human Dignity.” According to the UN, this theme links remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations: reaffirming faith in the dignity and worth of every person. In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lawfully states that everyone has the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection—an international protection that, for millions of Jews and other minority groups during the Holocaust, had failed. Today, the UN observance rejects denial of the Holocaust while providing the tools to prevent future genocide.

Did you know? The long-standing Jewish day of mourning for the Holocaust is called Yom HaShoah. This year, Yom HaShoah begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 4.

IN THE NEWS:
‘OLDEST MAN’ A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR

Yisrael Kristal, 112—a Holocaust survivor who currently lives in Haifa—may be the world’s oldest man, as was reported recently by The Times of Israel. Though he still must provide proper documentation from the first 20 years of his life, Kristal was reportedly born in 1903. Years later, while operating his family’s confectionery business in Lodz, Nazis began forcing the city’s Jews into a ghetto. Kristal’s two children died in the ghetto, and he and his wife were both later sent to Auschwitz, where she did not survive. In 1950, Kristal moved to Haifa, and began working as a confectioner again. According to sources, Kristal remains religiously observant, and credits his longevity to God.

Looking for additional resources? The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers first-person stories of Holocaust survivors, along with suggestions on how to respond to future genocide.

From the Vatican: In an official statement, the Vatican says Holocaust Remembrance Day “calls for a universal and ever deeper respect for the dignity of every person.” In addition, the Vatican diplomat noted that the day “serves as a warning to prevent us from yielding to ideologies that justify contempt for human dignity.” (Read more here.)

 

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