On November 1, 2005 the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 60/7 designating January 27th as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year on 24 January 2005 during which the United Nations General Assembly marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust.
The date was chosen because on January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army. Since then annual ceremonies and memorials are held all over the world at Jewish and Holocaust museums, cemeteries and monuments on the date.
Holocaust Memorial Day began in the UK in 2001, and has been marked every year on the same date since. Each year has a theme, including 'remembering genocides: lessons for the future' and 'one person can make a different'. There is a strong focus on trying to ensure mankind doesn't repeat the horrific mistakes of its past by learning from the Holocaust. The 2018 theme is 'the power of words', the idea being words can make a difference - both for good and evil.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday: It is important to remember the millions of Holocaust victims because recently, “anti-Semitism, racism, and the hatred of others are more relevant,” Merkel said in her weekly broadcast on Saturday. She said that schools, which already teach about the country’s Nazi past, need to work harder at that, especially so immigrant students from Arab countries will not “exercise anti-Semitism.”
She called it “incomprehensible and a disgrace that no Jewish Institution can exist without police security —whether it is a school, a kindergarten, or a synagogue.” The chancellor also reaffirmed her support of creating the position of anti-Semitism commissioner in the next German government, if her party can finalize tortuous negotiations to forge a coalition.
The commissioner would be appointed to counter growing hate speech against Jews and Israel in German from both its home-grown far-right and some recent migrants in the Muslim community. Israeli flags were burned in Berlin in December to protest the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
The Wiesenthal Center welcomed a decision by the Finnish government to investigate the participation of Finnish volunteers in Holocaust crimes, in the wake of new research on their service in Ukraine in 1941. "Finland can be proud of the willingness of its leaders to honestly investigate sensitive issues regarding the difficult years of World War II, The determination to do so is a reflection of integrity and requires a degree of courage, neither of which are particularly common these days in many other societies."
On the other hand, some Jewish communities were indignated when speeches and statements “outrageously omitted the words Jews and anti-Semitism.”
But the most outrageous event is the new bill passed in the lower house of Poland’s parliament, The Polish bill calls for criminal proceedings for individuals or organizations who allegedly defame the “Polish nation” by assigning guilt or complicity to Poles for crimes committed by the Nazis on Polish soil. Phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II, may be punishable by three years in prison or a fine, according to the law. The bill also makes it illegal to “deliberately reduce the responsibility of the ‘true culprits’ of these crimes,” For decades, Polish society avoided discussing the killing of Jews by civilians, or denied that anti-Semitism motivated the slayings, blaming all atrocities on the Germans.
The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, Yad Vashem, said that “There is no doubt that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is a historical misrepresentation. However, restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion.” The bill still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president, but has caused much tension between Israel and Poland.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the proposed law “baseless” and ordered his country’s ambassador to Poland to meet with Polish leaders to express Israel's strong opposition. “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” he said.
Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) on Saturday instructed schools to dedicate two hours this week to learn more about European nations’ involvement in the Holocaust and their roles during the war, including that of Poland.
President Rivlin will be embarking on a state visit to Greece this week and asked that the itinerary prepared for him by his Greek hosts, be changed so that he could visit the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki that was vandalized earlier this month, presumably by members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose name was daubed at the base of the monument. On learning of Rivlin’s request, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that he would escort the president to the site of the monument.Again, I would like to stress the importance of teaching our younger generations about the Holocaust. The number of survivors gets smaller every year and it is our duty to ensure that their story be told to as many people as possible.
President, World WIZO
photo credit: Avi Ochayoun - Spokesperson Unit of the President of Israel