International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust by Rav Natan

The next major Jewish holidays in our calendar, Purim and Pesach, are focused on the concept of Zachor, remembrance. We remember historical events of our shared collective memory as a People. These holidays are opportunities to learn divine values and moral behavior from our ancestral narrative.

Not necessarily as they happened, but as we as people decided to remember our own history.

This week, on January 27th, we remember a different kind of collective memory.

Fifteen years ago, October 26th of 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution:

“(…) Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, such as race, religion or other status, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice, resolves that the United Nations will designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust;

Urges Member States to develop educational programs that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide; (…)

Rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event; (…)

Condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur; (…)”

On January 27th, 1945, the concentration and death camp complex Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated, as part of the long process to defeat the Nazi regime in Europe. This day is a date to be celebrated, honoring the lives of those who were killed in the holocaust by living a life committed to Human Rights, fighting against all kinds of prejudice, bigotry and oppression.

Many people have asked me the difference between this day and Yom Hashoah.

Yom Hashoah was established by the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in 1951 on the 27th of Nisan, eight days prior to Yom HaAtzma’ut. While other ideas floated around, it was a deliberated decision to mark this historical moment in the month of Nisan, historically associated with Freedom and Joy because of Pesach. On Yom Hashoah we remember all the victims of and honor all the survivors.

The official name of Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron LaShoah v’HaGevurah, Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and Heroism. The meaning of it according to the Knesset is: “a day of commemoration of the Jews who perished and for those who showed resistance and heroism.”

The State of Israel in its early years decided how they wanted to remember these horrendous years. They had to look forward, inspire countless immigrants who escaped the Nazi regime and lost family, friends, and everything else they had.

So why do we need another day to remember the Holocaust? We remember International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust because we are not alone. We were not killed alone as many other minority groups were targeted by Hitler. We are not alone now. The same deplorable ideology that caused the Holocaust, still is a source of hate and evil in our days, in this country, and around the world.

We need an International Day of remembrance to remind us that we are not alone. We have each other and we will only be able to achieve peace if we understand that Human Rights are only the beginning of a long journey of full liberation.

We need to teach future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide.

We need to find our allies in every community and build a better world together.

“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)

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