Remembrance and Beyond: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2024

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 to illuminate it. 

- Elie Wiesel

Today is the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly 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 it is where our redemption is." I come from a country where holocaust education has been mandated in every school since 1991. Not only that, but the British government sponsors two students a year from every high school in England, thousands altogether, to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau through 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 yearly day of remembrance and reflection on the Holocaust. This day has great merit, and acts as a time for us to come together to memorialize the victims and educate the next generation on a defining period of our history. However, I believe that this memorial day cannot and should not stand alone. International Holocaust Remembrance Day tells a different story and sends a different message. Today is for every American, not just Jewish Americans. In many ways, that's why I feel it's more important.

We will always remember the intolerable cruelty faced by our grandparents and great grandparents, but by commemorating their bravery alongside other Americans of all faiths and backgrounds, we do more than just remember - we act to fulfill the decades old promise that "never again" will a time come when such atrocities will go unchallenged due to ignorance or passivity. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed by state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, and faith communities across the country. It is our opportunity to learn, discuss, and create relationships with those who would be our allies if the time was ever to come again.

Today is also the time for us to pay our respects to the many groups who faced the gas chambers along with us. Yom Hashoah belongs to the Jewish people alone, but the Holocaust does not. The Nazis systematically murdered 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 and religious opponents - whether of German or non-German ethnic origin. It has been estimated that the total number of Holocaust victims sits somewhere between 11 and 17 million people. Today is our chance to stand with these communities, along side those not personally affected, and speak in unison.

Since the its resolution in 2005, every member nation of the United Nations has an obligation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and teach educational programs as part of an international resolve to help prevent future acts of genocide. As President Obama so eloquently said in 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 suitcases that still bear their names. The wooden clogs they wore. The round bowls from which they ate. Those brick buildings from which there was no escape - where so many Jews died with Sh'ma Israel on their lips. And the very earth at Auschwitz, which is still hallowed by their ashes - Jews and those who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French and Dutch, 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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