Monday is a remembrance day for one of the most well-known events of World War II, the Holocaust.
Jan. 27 is designated by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since 2005, the UN and its member states have hosted commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.
“This is the story of the death of six million and the suffering of millions more and the story of violence and evil carried out by millions,” said Jeremy Best, assistant professor of history. “It would be erasing the truth about the past if we do not remember.”
This year is the 15th anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the most well known camps used by the Nazi party in WWII. It was a Polish city formerly called Oswiecim before being divided into the two parts of the camp, Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was liberated by the Soviet Union in January 1945, according to History.com.
On Nov. 1, 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 60/7 to designate Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The same resolution supports the development of educational programs to remember the Holocaust and to prevent further genocide.
“Resolution 60/7 not only establishes Jan. 27 as ‘International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust,’ it also rejects any form of Holocaust denial,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
The resolution encourages member states of the UN to actively preserve sites that the Nazis used during the “Final Solution.” Drawing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the resolution condemns all forms of “religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief” throughout the world.
The first commemoration ceremony took place on Jan. 27, 2006, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Nearly 2,200 people attended in person. Since the ceremony was broadcasted live on television, many more people were able to view it throughout the world. UN offices across the world and other state offices also conduct their own ceremonies.
Since 2010, the UN has designated specific themes for the annual commemorations. That year, the central theme revolved around Holocaust survivors and the lessons they pass on to future generations. The 2011 theme focused on the experiences of women. The 2012 theme was “Children and the Holocaust” and highlighted the effects of mass violence on children.
In 2013, remembrance events centered on individuals and groups who risked their lives “to save tens of thousands of Jews, Roma and Sinti and others from near-certain death under the Nazi regime during the Second World War in Europe,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
The 2014 theme focused on journeys through the Holocaust, from deportation to liberation. In 2015, the central idea was how the experiences of the Holocaust shaped the founding of the UN. The 2016 theme explored the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ connection to the Holocaust.
The 2017 theme emphasized “Holocaust education as a platform for building respect for human rights, increasing tolerance and defending our common humanity,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
In 2018, the theme was “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility.”
In 2015, 39 countries participated in International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration ceremonies. Remembrance activities varied by country. Some hosted lectures and presentations on different topics, while others showed films and documentaries on the Holocaust. Other countries lit candles or read the names of victims of the Nazi regime.
In addition to observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day, many of the participating countries have established their own remembrance days that are often connected to events from the Holocaust.
For example, Argentina legislated April 19, the day of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, as the national Day for Cultural Diversity. Hungary designated April 16 as National Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the establishment of the ghetto in Munkács. In 1979, the United States Congress established Days of Remembrance that usually take place between April and early May to commemorate victims of the Nazi regime. The U.S. Days of Remembrance correspond to Yom HaShoah, Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place on April 20 and 21.
The purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is two-fold: to serve as a date for the official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world.
Best said when he teaches his classes he always brings up five myths that are common beliefs of people when they think about the Holocaust. These five false beliefs are: that Aushwitz was the place where most of the Jews were killed; Germans who refused to partake in the Holocaust were punished or killed; only the Nazi party and the Schutzstaffel killed Jews; nobody outside of Germany knew what was going on; and the Jews were weak and defenseless victims.
The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators.
The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.
“During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority: Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians and others), Soviet prisoners of war and blacks,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website. “Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.”
In the final months of the war, the Nazis moved camp inmates by train or on forced marches, often called “death marches,” in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners.
As Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Germany, they began to encounter and liberate concentration camp prisoners, as well as prisoners en route by forced march from one camp to another. The marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
For the Western Allies, World War II officially ended in Europe on the next day, May 8, while Soviet forces announced their “Victory Day” on May 9, 1945.
“The Holocaust does not exist to teach us lessons,” Best said. “It is not like ‘Oh thank goodness that happened, now we know better.’ But nonetheless, it would be a moral failing to forget about what happened.”