International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Why We Must Never Forget

Amid a flurry of confusion over the seemingly plethora number of executive orders which streamed from the president’s desk during his first week in office and in the midst of news commentators still discussing and reporting about the women’s march from the previous Saturday, there was a special day that likely went by without many people knowing or giving it a second thought. However, that day is more important than many may want to admit and to some it is even more important today than it may have been a few years ago. This past Friday, January 27th, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, so chosen because it marks the day that Russian troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations in 2005 to commemorate the deaths of the six million Jews as well as an estimated two million Roma (Gypsies) and thousands of disabled individuals, gays, and the righteous gentiles who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.(1) Millions and millions of people were sent to concentration camps. Some were immediately gassed upon their arrival while others were forced to live in these camps and work for the Nazis. Food was minimal and disease was rampant. When a person was unable to continue to work, they would be killed. Most bodies were left in ditches piled on top of each other or thrown into the crematory ovens which rained down human ash on the towns nearby. The concentration camps were liberated by American and Russian soldiers at the end of World War II in 1945. The world was sickened and shocked by what happened at the hands of  the Nazis and many Jews and non-Jews alike cried out saying that this could never be allowed to happen again. In essence, we cannot let history repeat itself, and in order to prevent this from occurring in the future, we must know what happened and be ever vigilant to ensure that we do go down that same road again.

“The world has a duty to remember that the Holocaust was a systematic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people and so many others”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a public statement made on Friday. (1 and 2  Additionally, “the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides,” according to the website for The National Holocaust Museum. And indeed many places across the United States, from Virginia and California and Pennsylvania and Texas, they followed this request. In fact, people around the world in cities like New York, Paris, Amsterdam, and London came together to remember those who perished and to renew the commitment to the “never again” promise.

The UN is doing its part by hosting State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, a “powerful exhibition that examines how the Nazis used propaganda to win broad voter support, implement radical programs, and justify war and mass murder. It emphasizes why the issue of propaganda matters and challenges citizens to actively question, analyze, and seek the truth.” according to The National Holocaust Museum website. This exhibit will be open through March 5th and more than 40 countries will host condensed versions of this exhibition in nine different languages.

Perhaps one of the most moving remembrances comes from Poland where survivors of the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau gathered with Jewish and Christian leaders in prayer at the former site of the gas chambers 72 years after they were liberated. Survivors and others laid rocks, wreaths, and flowers at the site where it is estimated that more than 1.1 million people lost their lives here. (

Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who is from the Polish town where the Auschwitz memorial and museum is located, recalled the “destruction of humanity” and the “ocean of lost lives and hopes” at this horrid place in Oswiecim. “It’s an open wound that may close sometimes but it shall never be fully healed and it must not be forgotten,” she said. (Ibid)

For the most part it seems that many are doing their part to ensure that those who perished are remembered and that we work to prevent future atrocities. Schools around the world include Holocaust education and many of them have special visitors who were there or professional Holocaust educators come and speak. Also many Jewish Federations, like the one locally, hold and annual writing, as well as visual arts competition and ask students to submit work about the Holocaust. All of these efforts do seem to make a difference because, for the most part, students seem to understand the importance of this day. “To me, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is more of a warning. It is a day designed to not just remind people of those who were slaughtered but to warn and to remind the world of the horrendous actions humans are capable of and how it can’t be allowed to happen again,” said Evan Gordon a junior at Cape Henry Collegiate. Clearly this students has internalized the true message of the day, but even younger students understand the importance of the day. Matthew Gross, an eighth grader at Cape Henry also understands why a special day is needed “We need an International Holocaust Remembrance day  because we need a specific day to remember the six million Jews Jews, and the three million other people that were killed. It is important to know about the Holocaust because it was a big event. The whole world  should take time to acknowledge what happened, “ he explained.

Cape Henry is one of millions of schools that provide their students with Holocaust education and many different grade levels. CHC also participates in the annual Holocaust competition referenced above. This is because Cape Henry, like many other schools, understands the importance of this day and this is likely to continue since this is highly supported by the teachers. “It has been seven decades since the Holocaust ended, and the day is even more important now than it used to be because the survivors are dying and without their lived stories, it’s going to be more difficult for younger people to understand,“ said Dr. Garran, CHC Head of School. Dr. Garran’s point is well taken. We are indeed the last generation that will have the opportunity to hear about the Holocaust from those who actually experienced it, and while Jewish communities around the globe have worked hard to record and preserve the memoirs and experiences of the survivors there is nothing like hearing the words yourself, in person from a survivor.

Yet with all of these remembrances, services, and educational programs going on and with all the documentation, pictures, and survivors stories there are still those that refuse to believe that the Holocaust ever happened. The Anti-Defamation League, commonly known as the ADL posts several sample quotes from Holocaust deniers on their website. One example of these quotes is from a man named David Irving. Irving claims that the Holocaust is akin to a religion in itself. “The Intellectual Adventure is that we are reversing this entire trend within the space of one generation — in a few years- time, no one will believe this particular legend anymore. They will say, as I do, that atrocities were committed. Yes, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, but there were no factories of death. All that is a blood libel against the German people.” Speech in Portland, OR. September 18, 1996. (posted on Internet)(ADL website)

     How in the face of so much evidence can people deny these events? The National Holocaust Memorial Museum addresses this on the website. They state that “Holocaust denial is an attempt to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. Holocaust denial and distortion are forms of anti-Semitism…generally motivated by hatred of Jews and built on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests.” These views help to perpetuate long-standing anti-Semitic stereotype and hateful charges that were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Holocaust. Holocaust denial, distortion, and misuse all undermine the understanding of history and they are a torture for those who survived and for those who lost loved ones.(ibid)

Hopefully, learning about the history of the Holocaust and hearing the stories of survivors put a face on these heinous crimes which hopefully will in turn help to prevent tragedies like this from occurring again so that the “never again” promise will not go unbroken.