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.)

Yom HaShoah: Israelis, Jews and more mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Young people dressed in white and blue carry Israeli flags and walk down railroad tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

March of the Living participants, April 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15: An Israeli memorial for the tragic 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of this solemn observance.

Literally “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies: Today, the millions who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era, they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times, and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Did you know? Yom HaShoah was originally intended for Nisan 14—the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—but was shifted to Nisan 27 because of the original date’s proximity to the start of Passover.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. (Wikipedia has details.) Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common. (Note: Some Orthodox Jews choose to remember Holocaust victims on other Jewish days of mourning, and not on Yom HaShoah.)

MARCH OF THE LIVING AND ‘I BELIEVE’

Sheet music with page turning, close-up

In 2013, Daniel Gross’ musical liturgy for Yom HaShoah, ‘I Believe,’ had its performance debut in Detroit, Mich. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, thousands of Israeli teenagers, Jews and non-Jews from across the globe embark on The March of the Living, a ceremonial walk that vividly contrasts the Holocaust death marches. This year will mark the 27th annual March of the Living with young people gathering from more than 45 countries. (The Jerusalem Post reported.) This year will focus on “passing the torch,” notes the organization’s chairman, as each year brings fewer Holocaust survivors.

No complete musical liturgy existed for Yom HaShoah until recently, when Daniel Gross—a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and The Juilliard School, and cantor in Farmington Hills, Mich.—composed I Believe—A Shoah Requiem. (Watch it performed, here.) On April 7, 2013, I Believe had its world premiere presentation at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Mich. (In 2013, My Jewish Detroit interviewed Gross.)

IN THE NEWS: FRENCH MAYORS VISIT ISRAEL

Israel will welcome 20 French mayors on Yom HaShoah this year, all of whom are visiting for the same reason: each has a resident back home in France who has been designated as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor given by the state of Israel to non-Jews who jeopardized their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. (Read the story in The Algemeiner.) When the mayors learned that they did not know the stories behind some of their own Righteous Among the Nations, they began to dig deeper—and that research led them to Israel, to more information and to the possibility of additional memorials within the towns.