Every year around 27 January, UNESCO pays tribute to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and reaffirms its unwavering commitment to counter antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance that may lead to group-targeted violence.
The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops on 27 January, 1945. It was officially proclaimed, in November, 2005, International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust by the United Nations General Assembly.
The Holocaust profoundly affected countries in which Nazi crimes were perpetrated, but also had universal implications and consequences in many other parts of the world.
Member States share a collective responsibility for addressing the residual trauma, maintaining effective remembrance policies, caring for historic sites, and promoting education, documentation and research, seven decades after the genocide. This responsibility entails educating about the causes, consequences and dynamics of such crimes so as to strengthen the resilience of young people against ideologies of hatred.
As genocide and atrocity crimes keep occurring across several regions, and as we are witnessing a global rise of anti-Semitism and hateful discourses, this has never been so relevant.
History of International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The Holocaust is also called Shoah (Shoa) which refers to the organized ethnic cleansing of Jews in Germany and Poland. Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany on January 30, 1933, and thus started the persecution of Jews.
They were arrested under different charges like disability, homosexuality, and politico-religious disagreement with the German regime, Soviet association, and Polish ethnicity. In fact, they all were Jews and the German regime used different tactics to arrest and hold them into places more horrible than prisons called Concentration Camps.
Many concentration camps were created with names like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Chelmno, Dachau, Ebensee, and Flossenbürg. Auschwitz-Birkenau was assumed as the most horrible camp of all. Reports reveal that more than a million Jews succumbed to death in this camp before the Soviets dismantled it on January 27, 1945, in German-occupied Poland. The UN also associated the date of the day to the dismantling of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Approximately 6 million Jews were consumed by the Holocaust. German Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler was defeated by the Soviets in 1945 and he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in his underground bunker after learning about the death of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini who was killed by Firing Squad on April 28, 1945.
Nazi Germany was captured by the Allied Forces and the United Nations Organization was formed on October 24, 1945, to decrease the anarchy which was penetrating the international structure. The world leaders showed intentions to reach a world order where no one would be punished or persecuted on the basis of his/her ethnicity, sexual association, political ideology, or religion.
The 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps was commemorated by the UN on January 24, 2005. The happening of the Holocaust was also denied before this year because people used to think that to remember such painful experiences by a community would increase the pain of the victims and their descendants.
The UN General Assembly rejected such denials and suggested that we should commemorate the incident so the coming generations can learn the consequences of supporting an extremist person or group of people to reach power. The UNGA adopted a resolution on November 1, 2005, which would encourage people to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and learn what shameful acts their ascendants were experiencing during the Great Wars especially WW-II. The first International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust was celebrated on January 27, 2006, under the resolution adopted by the UNGA.
Theme of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021
“Facing the Aftermath: Recovery and Reconstitution after the Holocaust”
is the Theme of International Holocaust Remembrance Day for the current year 2021. This Theme of 2021 foreshadows the fact that the whole world together may work to erase the painful stains of the holocaust so that the survivors of that era may be encouraged to be optimistic and may not live in the memory of disastrous past which is though difficult to forget but the theme may fulfill the purpose and to show that the what has been done must be repeated neither in society nor in the minds.
The victims of the holocaust who lost their lives, but the people remaining behind, into the radical phase not to engage in the revengeful bloody wars but to establish a system of social justice and equality where humanity may flourish. It also urges to remind that the victims faced the actual era of the holocaust but we as survivors have to face the consequences of the reality before us. We must be unitedly resistant towards inequality and brutality in such a way that it should be observed that the world really acknowledged the victims and the painful wound of the holocaust is not healing.
The day is to promise that real recovery is only when liberty, tolerance and happiness prevail and a system will be reconstituted with much space and broadmindedness.
Logo of International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The United Nations has a proper platform to commemorate the survivors of the Holocaust with the title “Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme” which has four elements on a solid black background as the symbols. “Remembrance and Beyond” are the two symbols depicted in white color as two symbols. The globe centered on the North Pole surrounded by two olive branches is projected as the UN symbols.
A piece of barbed wire which ends in the form of two white roses is projected as two other elements. The concentration camps, the loss of Jewish people’s freedom, and the sufferings they experienced along with many other groups are represented by the barbed wires whereas the peace, freedom, and remembrance are represented by the roses. Some scholars also argue that these roses refer to a non-violent resistance movement that was active in Germany from June, 1942 till February, 1943.
The white rose symbolizes the investigation, remembrance, and prevention of genocide in the United States and the United Kingdom. Rose is a beautiful flower and it has its glamor in almost every society, but it appears in pain when it is colorless (white).
Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated with respect for the Holocaust survivors throughout the world whereas the regions like North America, Europe, and Israel mark this as an international day to commemorate the Jewish people who experienced one of the cruelest tortures humanity has ever experienced. Yom HaShoah, a day to mourn the victims of the Holocaust is celebrated in Israel on this day. Moreover, the UN has also added this day to its list of International Days which are attributed to different events throughout the year.
Apart from that, public ceremonies are held in schools, NGOs Offices, and some Public offices to commemorate the Holocaust Survivors and to recall what kind of inhumane acts human beings can commit if we allow the people with extremist values and ideologies to assume power.
Public ceremonies are held and the speakers either recall their experiences being victims of the terrible Holocaust or they argue on the ways we can save humanity from another Holocaust.
The Holocaust Remembrance Day is a milestone in the history of both the Holocaust survivors as well as the United Nations Organization (UNO) itself as both have completed the journey of three quarters since the Great War ended, the concentration and death camps dismantled and the UN formed to make the world prosper, peaceful, and against the atrocities which were committed during the Great Wars.
For the first time, the United Nations and UNESCO will jointly organize a series of events, in partnership with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, to mark the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Due to restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, and to reach global audiences, the events will be entirely online. Events will include a commemoration ceremony on 27 January, 2021 and a panel discussion on Holocaust denial and distortion, broadcast by UNTV and CNN, in addition to exhibitions in Paris and UNESCO Field Offices around the world.