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.


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.)


10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans buildings underwater, view from above

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the city remained submerged underwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

vietnamese american catholics worship in New OrleansOne of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.

Man and woman walking through chest-deep water, carrying backpacks

Residents of New Orleans make their way through Hurricane Katrina’s floods. Photo by Chris Graythen, courtesy of Flickr


The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. ( has a slideshow of photos.)


Weather photo of white winds over southern U.S. and ocean

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.


Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.

Anniversary: Rastafari, Civil Rights marks birthday of Marcus Garvey

“[Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale … to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 1965

Painting of dark-skinned man with colorful background and quote

Marcus Garvey Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Mark Gstohl, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, AUGUST 17: A Black Nationalist who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., united Malcom X’s parents and now has schools, colleges, highways and buildings honoring him across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and United States is honored today, on the anniversary of his birth: the birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.

Throughout his life, Marcus Garvey led the Black Nationalist movement by creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founding the Negro World newspaper as a major vehicle for communication and launching the Black Star Line, an international shipping company. Through the 1920s, Garvey’s public speeches contained mention of a “black king” who would soon be crowned in Africa and offer deliverance; the Rastafari believe Garvey to be prophetic, foretelling the crowing of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. For the Rastafari, Garvey is still seen as a religious prophet, similar to St. John the Baptist.


Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey learned to read in his father’s library and sought to unite Africans of the diaspora. The UNIA, formed in 1914, was the “broadest mass movement in African-American history,” created with a mission to provide economic and educational opportunities and inspiration for Africans of the diaspora. (Learn more from and The UNIA developed the Pan-African flag (colored red, black and green) to represent a race and movement. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Garvey worked hard to develop a colony for free blacks in Africa. (Wikipedia has details.) At its peak, the UNIA claimed millions of members.


During his lifetime, Marcus Garvey also faced criticism from many quarters, including from many African-Americans. One of his critics was W.E.B Du Bois. Nonetheless, Garvey’s efforts fueled what eventually became the Civil Rights movement and the concept of a secular organization for blacks. Earl and Louise Little, parents of Malcolm X, met at a UNIA convention in Montreal; the Rastafari continue to view Garvey as a prophet. Garvey died in London in June of 1940.

Disneyland: Celebrating 60 years since Walt’s theme park Grand Opening

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. … Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
Walt Disney

Mickey, Donald, Goofy and other Disney characters stand in line facing crowd at Disneyland, in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle

Mickey and friends in Disneyland, 2009. Photo by Loren Javier, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JULY 17: Sixty years ago today, the opening of Walt Disney’s famed amusement park seemed to confirm the nightmare stockholders had anticipated. After an astronomical investment, Walt opened his “Disneyland”—then was met with more than double the number of guests given preview tickets (many passes were counterfeit). On the morning of July 17, 1955, disaster seemed imminent.

Yet despite the initial ride breakdowns, plumber’s strikes and unfinished rides, America’s hunger for the possibilities of Disneyland was insatiable. Plopped into a 160-acre orange grove in California, Disneyland had a less-than-optimal Opening Day but an extremely successful first year. It’s estimated that 90 million viewers watched the initial coverage on TV; more than 3.5 million guests flooded Disneyland’s gates within its first year. (View the original ABC coverage of Opening Day at Disneyland, here.)

Black-and-white of man at center holding blueprints, surrounded by other men looking at prints, all in suits

Walt Disney shows plans for Disneyland’s layout to Orange County officials. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How does Disney inspire you? Columnist Suzy Farbman offers Disney quotes that spark the entrepreneur—and dreamer—in all of us.

Then, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm wrote about a multi-generational spiritual pilgrimage to Walt’s “other” major investment: Disney World in Florida.

In 1955, Walt Disney greeted press and invited guests on July 17, although it wasn’t until the following day—July 18—that the park opened to the public. Admission to Disney’s $17 million investment cost just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children under 12, with additional charges for specific rides or amusements. (Learn more from

Walt’s vision for a place where parents and children could have fun together had been completed in a single year—just as promised. It would be the first and only Disney park personally dedicated by Walt Disney, welcoming its 1 millionth visitor within two months after opening. (View black-and-white photos of early Disneyland here.)

Did you know? Disneyland Park originally featured five themed “lands:” Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA.

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, spent years working as a commercial artist before producing animated cartoons. Ever the entrepreneur, Disney would strive throughout his career to improve the aesthetic and technical quality of his films and productions. In 1928, Steamboat Willy was the first animated film to use sound. In 1955, Disneyland presented an entirely new model for amusement parks. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, Disneyland welcomes more than 14 million visitors per year.


Disneyland kicked off its Diamond Celebration on May 22, but 60th-birthday events continue for an entire year. (Get the scoop from ABC News.) New shows, limited-time merchandise and additions to current attractions are just a few of the surprises Disney has in store this year. (LA Times reports.) To date, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, claiming approximately 700 million visitors since Opening Day. Next year, the magic of Disney will spread to Shanghai, where a themed attraction will open in 2016.

Fourth of July: Americans from coast to coast celebrate independence

“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1826

American flag flying on pole in dark, nighttime, fireworks in background

Photo by Liz West, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, JULY 4: Crowds line the streets for patriotic parades; the scent of barbecue draws family and friends; then fireworks light up the night sky on the Fourth of July, the National Day of the United States of America. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

Vintage postcard of man in red, white and blue apparel with flag

A vintage Fourth of July postcard. Photo by Dave, courtesy of Flickr


With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

In June 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress. On July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed. (Learn more from

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.


A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. For facts about the Declaration, an archive of American recipes, access to Patriotic songs and more, visit Fireworks laws by state, July 4 celebrations at national parks and barbecue, travel and pool safety tips can also be found at


Nothing sets the stage for a summer party like the occasion of the Fourth of July! Dig up those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation.

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Taste of Home, Rachael Ray and Real Simple. HGTV offers traditional Fourth of July fare and cocktail ideas.

Red, white and blue batter cupcakes with white icing peak and American flag on top

Photo by Ginny, courtesy of Flickr

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 10 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from and Better Homes and Gardens. Parents offers kid-approved party ideas.

Holiday weekend travelers can look to this article from Forbes for tips on Fourth of July travel, utilizing this year’s timeline and an airfare predictor app.

If mosquitos are rampant, stay indoors with a lineup of patriotic movies—Forbes and offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

Anniversary: A nation mourns the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination

“Now he belongs to the ages.”
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, upon the death of President Lincoln

Drawing of assassination of President Lincoln

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 14: This date in April was Good Friday in 1865, and despite the general solemnity of the Christian holiday, President Abraham Lincoln was in a joyful mood: “The Friday, I never saw him so supremely cheerful,” Mary Lincoln later wrote. The American Civil War had ended days earlier, yet the 16th President told his wife that he felt this was the day the war had come to a close. His eldest son, Robert, had returned home, and Lincoln had urged his wife that they should both be more cheerful from that day forward. Despite dreams of his impending assassination—which had continued for three nights in a row—Abraham Lincoln took his wife, Mary, to Ford’s Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. The show would be his last.

While seated in a private box in attendance of “Our American Cousin,” Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot in the back of the head at approximately 10:15 p.m., by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The muffled noise of the gunshot caused confusion in the Ford’s Theatre audience, but after Booth jumped to the stage, the First Lady screamed. Booth ran from the theater to escape from Washington on horseback.

Slumped in his chair and struggling to breathe, soldiers carried the President to a house across the street. In a bed too small for his 6-foot, 4-inch stature, the President was laid diagonally. When the surgeon general arrived at the house, he told those who had gathered that Lincoln would, inevitably, die during the night. Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincolns’ cabinet and several of his friends stood by his bedside through the night, until the President was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m.

Did you know? Lincoln was the first U.S. President to be assassinated.

A temporary coffin carried Lincoln’s body to the White House, where an autopsy was performed. By the end of the day, news of the President’s death had spread across the country, and flags were flown at half-mast while businesses closed their doors. (Learn more from Wikipedia and On April 21, Lincoln’s body was boarded onto a train headed for Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried. Tens of thousands of Americans paid their respects along the railroad route.

Black-and-white drawing of men in small room gathered around man in bed

President Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, a frantic search for John Wilkes Booth had thousands of soldiers, detectives and citizens on his trail. A $100,000 reward was offered for anyone who located Booth. Twelve days following the assassination, soldiers found Booth hiding on a farmstead; Booth was killed, and four of his convicted accomplices were later hanged. Booth’s last words were, “Useless, useless.”


As the American Civil War entered its final stages, the Confederacy was becoming desperate: John Wilkes Booth and several associates created a plot to kidnap the President and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. When the planned kidnapping fell through, however, Booth hatched a plot to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward—with the intention of throwing the U.S. government into chaos. Last-minute changes in plans prevented this plot from being carried out successfully, although Lincoln suffered a tragic end that, many believe, he had long felt was inescapable.


From the bullet that killed him to the top hat he was wearing to the chair he sat in on that fateful night, museums across the country will be showcasing exhibits dedicated to Abraham Lincoln for the sesquicentennial of his assassination.

In Dearborn, Mich., visitors to The Henry Ford will have a rare chance to view the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in outside of its usual enclosure, as part of the museum’s observance of the sesquicentennial. In New York, “Abraham Lincoln and Civil War New York” will lead visitors on a walking tour of sites significant to Lincoln and the Civil War in New York. The National Park Service will launch Lincoln’s Journey Home April 18-May 3, with commemorations in many of the major cities that held a service for Lincoln. Ford’s Theatre will host events on April 14 and through to the following morning, with events culminating in a wreath-laying ceremony accompanied by church bells at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. The cottage of President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., will be draped in black.

Even those unable to visit an historic site for the sesquicentennial can tour Ford’s Theatre online, through an interactive field trip available for viewing April 13-14, at Also on the digital front, a massive archive—containing more than 100,000 documents related to Lincoln, and entitled, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln—is growing rapidly as a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (Read the full story here.) Public access to the digitized documents is currently available through a temporary website, and a more in-depth website is planned for when the project is closer to completion.

Looking for more coverage of the sesquicentennial? Forbes, CNN, the Washington Post, Smithsonian and the Chicago Tribune all covered this important milestone.



Anniversary: America marks sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War

Interior view of parlor with Colonial-era decor, fireplace, desk and chairs

Interior view of the reconstructed McLean House, currently located within the Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, in Virginia—the location of the official surrender of the Confederate Army of Robert E. Lee. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 9: The Civil War sesquicentennial has been garnering national attention since 2011, and on April 9, 2015, a major milestone is reached: the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. On this date in 1865—Palm Sunday, that year—General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses Grant. The final cannon had been fired; the “might scourge,” as Lincoln called it, had come to an end.

Did you know? General George Armstrong Custer received the flag of truce at the Appomattox Court House. The original Truce Flag is exhibited at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. (From

Since 2011, several states and major historical organizations have been reporting coverage and composing stories for the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. From the state of Ohio to the Smithsonian to, innumerable resources, interactive tools, apps and more have brought the significant milestone to the national spotlight. (The Washington Post has been publishing a series of chapters, complete with photos and videos, to cover the Sesquicentennial.) To preserve significant sites of the Civil War for generations to come, History is collecting donations for Give 150, which directly benefits the Civil War Trust and the National Park Foundation.


Preserved in Boston today is the famed Appomattox Court House—the site where Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Lincoln and approximately 15 Union soldiers gathered for the official surrender of the Confederates. (The Boston Globe reported on this site and milestone.) On this date 150 years ago, the soldiers, generals and people of America, all exhausted from war, experienced the end of a fight that had torn the nation in two. With the presentation of terms of surrender, at the Appomattox Court House, the Civil War ended.