Remembrance and Beyond: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

by Amelia Viney
Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Originally posted on the

What does it mean to remember? It is to live in more than one world,to prevent the past from fading, and to call upon the future toilluminate it. Elie Wiesel.

Today is the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau,the largest Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations GeneralAssembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual day of commemoration to honor all the victims of the Nazi regime.

Estelle Laughlin, a Holocaust survivor, once beautifully explained,”Memory is what shapes us. It is what teaches us. We must understand itis where our redemption is.” I come from a country where holocausteducation has been mandated in every school since 1991. Not only that,but the British government sponsors two students a year from every highschool in England, thousands altogether, to visit Auschwitz-Birkenauthrough the Holocaust Educational Trust‘s “Lessons from Auschwitz” Project. Only on coming to America did I realize how unusual this was.

The American Jewish community has settled on Yom Hashoah as its yearlyday of remembrance and reflection on the Holocaust. This day has greatmerit, and acts as a time for us to come together to memorialize thevictims and educate the next generation on a defining period of ourhistory. However, I believe that this memorial day cannot and should notstand alone. International Holocaust Remembrance Day tells a differentstory and sends a different message. Today is for every American, notjust Jewish Americans. In many ways, that’s why I feel it’s moreimportant.

We will always remember the intolerable cruelty faced by ourgrandparents and great grandparents, but by commemorating their braveryalongside other Americans of all faiths and backgrounds, we do more thanjust remember – we act to fulfill the decades old promise that “neveragain” will a time come when such atrocities will go unchallenged due toignorance or passivity. International Holocaust Remembrance Day isobserved by state and local governments, military bases, workplaces,schools, and faith communities across the country. It is our opportunityto learn, discuss, and create relationships with those who would be ourallies if the time was ever to come again.

Today is also the time for us to pay our respects to the many groups whofaced the gas chambers along with us. Yom Hashoah belongs to the Jewishpeople alone, but the Holocaust does not. The Nazis systematicallymurdered millions of others for whatever reason they chose. The Romani,the Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals,the disabled community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other political andreligious opponents – whether of German or non-German ethnic origin. Ithas been estimated that the total number of Holocaust victims sitssomewhere between 11 and 17 million people. Today is our chance to standwith these communities, along side those not personally affected, andspeak in unison.

Since the its resolution in 2005, every member nation of the UnitedNations has an obligation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims andteach educational programs as part of an international resolve to helpprevent future acts of genocide. As President Obama so eloquently saidin his speech marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day of 2010:

“We have a sacred duty to remember the cruelty that occurred here,as told in the simple objects that speak to us even now. The suitcasesthat still bear their names. The wooden clogs they wore. The round bowlsfrom which they ate. Those brick buildings from which there was noescape – where so many Jews died with Sh’ma Israel on their lips. Andthe very earth at Auschwitz, which is still hallowed by their ashes -Jews and those who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French andDutch, Roma and Russian, straight and gay, and so many others.”

Today is the story of us all, and we should be a part of it.

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