Holocaust Remembrance Day: World reflects on Elie Wiesel, genocide education

“I have tried to keep memory alive … I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”

-Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, December 1986

 

Asian woman looks at reflective wall covered in numbers, outdoors

A woman at the New England Holocaust Memorial, Boston. Photo by Wally Gobetz, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: A focus on remembrance and education activities is the United Nations theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 under the title, “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future.” On this, the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwtiz-Birkenau, every United Nations member nation is asked to commemorate the memory of those who perished during the Nazi genocide. According to the UN, the theme for 2017 emphasizes the fact that Holocaust education has a universal dimension and can serve as a platform for discussing human rights, increasing tolerance and defending the collective humanity.

(Note: The older annual remembrance of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, will begin at sundown on April 23 this year.)

Following a 2005 session that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust, the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Countries worldwide remember the 6 million European Jews and millions of others who lost their lives during the massive Nazi “Final Solution.” Each Jan. 27, the United Nations reinforces its rejection of denial of the Holocaust, its rejection of religious intolerance, and the need to preserve Holocaust sites. (Learn more from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The camp we know as Auschwitz actually was a complex of three camps, and together, they were the largest such facility established by the Nazi regime. Auschwitz II—also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau—was established in 1942, and of the three camps, Auschwitz II contained the highest number of prisoners. Between 1942 and 1944, more than 1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; the largest group of Jews sent to the camp came from Hungary, in numbers approximated at 426,000. It wasn’t until Jan. 27, 1945 that Soviet forces evacuated Auschwitz.

HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY 2017: ELIE WIESEL & EXHIBITIONS

Some major observances of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 include remembrances of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of “Night” and Nobel Peace Prize winner who passed away in July of 2016. (CNN has a tribute article on the life of Elie Wiesel.) Other major events surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day include the exhibition State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda; a screening of the documentary film Persona Non Grata, which reveals the story of a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, and saved thousands of lives; and a discussion entitled, “Sugihara: Being an Upstander in a Tumultuous World.” Memorial events are encouraged in all UN member states. (Learn more here.)

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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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Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day: Mark 70 years since Auschwitz Birkenau

Circular wall of millions of old photos and written info beneath some

The Hall of Names commemorating the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, as part of Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, JANUARY 27: Seventy years to the day of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, members of the United Nations collectively bow their heads for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. After the horrors of the Holocaust, nations came together in 1945 to form what would become the United Nations—this year, celebrating its 70th anniversary, in October. (Learn more from UN.org.) Ten years ago, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that officially declared January 27 as the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Did you know? Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp. Soviet troops liberated the camp in 1945.

Member states of the UN have developed educational programs, conducted memorial ceremonies and instituted remembrances throughout the past decade. Short videos have been produced and released in 2015 in commemoration of the significant anniversaries, and are available in six languages through the UN.

SURVIVOR LEGACIES

Each year on January 27, the world remembers the Nazi regime’s genocide that led to the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 1 million Roma, 250,000 physically disabled persons and 9,000 homosexual men. Designated by the United Nations in November 2005, the resolution encourages each member nation to pay homage. (Wikipedia has details.) This year, nations observe the theme “Liberty, Life and the Legacy of the Holocaust Survivors.”

The three goals of United Nations Holocaust programs: Ongoing programs aim for a trifold purpose—to reject any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event; to condemn all manifestations of religious intolerance, violence and incitement against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief; and to prevent future acts of genocide.

IN THE NEWS:
TURKEY MARKS FIRST,
ROMA ‘REMAIN UNDERREPORTED’

This year, Turkey will hold its first ceremony for the International Day of Commemoration in memory of victims of the Holocaust, with representatives from the UN and speakers from the Jewish Turkish community. (Read more from the Times of Israel.) Among Holocaust victims, light is being shone this year on the Roma people—that is, Romani, or the people who often have been called “gypsies”—as an ethnicity still persecuted, especially in eastern Europe. Battling ongoing prejudices and stereotypes, many Roma still experience hardships in society, while their ancestors are vastly underrepresented in Holocaust remembrance memorials. Learn more about modern Roma—and how to help—reported in a recent article at JNS.org.

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