To mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the United Nations in 2005 declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day. There was no way to predict the unique set of challenges we would face in trying to commemorate this occasion 16 years later.
Typical remembrance day events include large audiences witnessing survivor testimony in person — a powerful experience that becomes rarer with each passing year — and solemn ceremonies in which the names of those who died during the Holocaust are read in an effort to preserve the memory of those who were senselessly murdered.
At a time when COVID-19 has altered our entire way of living, it is also impacting the way we mourn the dead.
Those who survived the horrors of the ghettos and concentration camps are now spending their latter years separated from the rest of society once again. The feelings of isolation are overwhelming, but their determination to endure prevails.
Three weeks ago, these survivors, like all of us, turned on the news to see stories of a violent mob storming the Capitol wearing shirts emblazoned with “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE,” which stands for “6 million wasn’t enough.”
Those who witnessed the ways in which hatred, antisemitism, and intolerance led to the murder of millions are being forced, once again, to watch from a distance as society faces these same threats once more. These survivors could not be faulted for feeling as if history is repeating itself.
We Have a Choice
We cannot let that happen. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
What happens now, at this pivotal moment in the history of humankind, matters perhaps more than any of us even realize. We have a choice. It is the same one that so many have been forced to make before us: do we stay silent or do we stand up and speak out about the things that matter?
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was designated, as its name implies, to remember the victims of the Holocaust. The importance of remembrance should not be underestimated. The act of remembering itself allows us to pause and reflect; taking the time to share individual pictures and stories restores the dignity to those who were dehumanized by the Nazis.
However, if we truly want to ensure that “Never Again” is more than just a rallying cry, then we must recognize that our responsibility goes further than providing “a date for official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world.”
It requires a lasting commitment to learning how to use the lessons of the Holocaust to inform issues in society and advocate for justice, equality, ethical practice, and human dignity for all people.
Lessons of the Holocaust
The abrogation of ethics that took place during the Holocaust resulted in a hierarchy of human life in which the lives of some individuals were valued more than others. This is a trend we continue to witness today.
How can we practically apply the lessons of the Holocaust to our current situation?
For those in medicine and public health, that may mean determining equitable and just protocols for allocating scarce resources and distributing vaccines to the most vulnerable among us.
For those in journalism or politics, perhaps this takes the form of assessing how ethical standards of behavior within a profession are determined, agreed upon, and enforced.
For educators, it can be figuring out how to incorporate materials about the Holocaust, human rights, social justice, and equality into an enduring curriculum.
The common theme is that all of us, regardless of our profession, can and should do something to fulfill our promise of “Never Again.”
Call to Action
If we truly want to honor the victims of the Holocaust, then International Holocaust Remembrance Day should not serve strictly as a memorial, but rather as a Call to Action. It should be a reminder that we are all members of humankind, and as such we are all entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
However, that also means that we have a responsibility to treat others with dignity and respect. The only way to ensure that history does not repeat itself is to take an active role in shaping the future by choosing our actions wisely today.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.