January 27: Connecting Students with the Distant Past on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
By Jasmine Bisheh, Education Intern
In 2005, the UN General Assembly designated that January 27th would serve from that day forward as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day was chosen because it was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, which was located in Poland. In 1945, towards the end of World War II, the Soviets liberated more than 6,000 prisoners from Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi death camps. While several nations already have remembrance days for the Holocaust, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is unique as a secular, multinational day of observance. On this day, UN member states seek to honor the victims and to develop educational resources. The purpose is both to keep the history alive and prevent future genocides.
Now, in 2016, there are many different ways in which nations seek to honor and educate. In Canada, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center is offering free admission. In Belgium, several screenings of Holocaust documentaries are taking place at various universities. In Poland, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum is hosting several events and broadcasting them worldwide. Additionally, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington will be hosting an event called “Combating Hate in Europe," which includes lectures from guest speakers. Through museum exhibits, documentary screenings, or preservation ceremonies, people of various backgrounds are doing what they consider honoring or remembering the victims.
To people who have a direct connection to the Holocaust it can be difficult to figure out the best way to honor the victims. For such individuals, what does honoring the victims really mean? I don’t think it matters where we come from or what religion we choose to practice or not practice. The point is we recognize the atrocities of the Holocaust and want to preserve the memory of those who were lost.
My way of honoring the victims would be to move away from overemphasizing statistics and labels regarding what groups were lost and move towards getting to know the individuals. I would like to learn about the individuals who may have lived lives not so dissimilar from our own before they were robbed of their humanity. Learning about these people on a more personal level can help us relate and remember why it is so important to maintain their memory. At my own school, the University of Texas, for example, I would like to see an event on campus where Holocaust survivors spoke to groups of students about their experiences. When we learn about who the victims were, we can appreciate whose memory we are maintaining.
Moreover, I think it’s important not just to have these public events at museums or centers, but also at universities and high schools. Hosting events at these locations is important because students need a convenient opportunity to engage. Students are such a crucial group to involve because they have arguably the most distance from events that occurred in Europe many decades ago. Yet, they are the ones who will be responsible for carrying on the memory of the Holocaust in the future. While International Holocaust Remembrance Day may be a recent designation, it is a very important date as it reminds us that it is a universal responsibility to preserve the memory of the Holocaust victims and educate all to prevent future genocide.
- Jasmine Bisheh, THGC Education Intern, Spring Term
First photograph used with permission from Wikimedia Commons
Second Photograph used with permission from J.E. WolfsonTags: international holocaust remembrance day auschwitz-birkenau holocaust genocide memory students survivors university of texas