International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges UN member states to honour the memory of Holocaust victims and develop educational programs about the Holocaust, to prevent future genocide.
These two interrelated goals work towards the elimination of discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism – and the promotion of human rights and social justice.
The theme for International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2018 was “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility.” It emphasizes the universal dimension of the Holocaust and encourages countries to firmly reject all forms of racism, violence and anti-Semitism.
This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration took place on Jan. 26 at Ottawa City Hall, with the participation of Holocaust survivors who are now passing on the torch to the next generations.
Nothing illustrates the need for International Holocaust Remembrance Day better than the unfortunate event that just took place in Hungary, where over half a million Jews perished during the Holocaust.
One of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches in central Budapest was set to celebrate a special mass, as it does every year, in memory of Hungary’s wartime collaborationist leader, Regent Horthy.
The program was to include speeches by the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, a former prime minister and the head of the recently established national historical institute, Veritas, which has drawn criticism for distorting facts about the Holocaust in Hungary.
Had it not been for a quick and sharp reaction from Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Congregations, and a handful of journalists, the commemorative mass would have gone ahead on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. With the unwanted attention, the church cancelled the event.
Hungary is not alone in having such difficulties: with right-wing parties and nationalist policies on the rise, a number of central and eastern European countries (Austria and Poland among them) have shown a distinct lack of support for Holocaust education and commemoration.
Legislation passed by the Polish Senate recently to regulate and criminalize Holocaust speech – outlawing references to “Polish death camps” – is extremely worrisome. Laws cannot define the history of the Holocaust or delimit scholarship and education dealing with it.
These examples seem far removed from the sentiments expressed by Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of Germany in 1995, about the country’s establishment of an annual Holocaust remembrance day: “The darkest and most awful chapter in German history was written at Auschwitz.… Above all, Auschwitz symbolizes the racial madness that lay at the heart of National Socialism and the genocide of European Jews, the cold planning and criminal execution of which is without parallel in history.”
So there is much education to do. The Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship at Carleton University’s Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies remains deeply committed to developing educational programs that promote knowledge and understanding of the history and legacy of the Holocaust, to combating prejudice and racism, and to promote respect for diversity, justice and human rights.
Seventy-three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, with anti-Semitism and racism on the rise around the world, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves of the universal lessons of the Holocaust and to foster a shared culture of remembrance.