Marked on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD) is a powerful reminder there’s nothing like the past to help humanity better tackle the present and address the future. But it’s not automatic. It requires a degree of knowledge and an understanding of history.
When it comes to the Holocaust, awareness is woefully lacking among many Canadians, especially the young. Admittedly, given its sheer scope and size, understanding the Holocaust, on one level, is extremely difficult. It defies what we want to believe about humankind.
How does one understand the reality of a civilized country, such as Germany, unleashing a campaign of industrialized mass murder driven by racist ideology? How does one make sense of it being so widely supported by much of the population? How does one come to terms with the genocide of six million Jews and millions of others? What it says about the human capacity for evil and depravity is sobering, to say the least. With the passage of time, it doesn’t get easier to contemplate the Holocaust.
As the world prepares to mark IHRD amid a global surge in antisemitism, the lessons of human history’s darkest chapter should loom large. The further in time we move away from it, the more important it is to commemorate and learn from this period of unspeakable horror.
In 2005, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this date in 1945, Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and most notorious of the Nazi death camps. That it took 50 years until the UN finally devoted a day to the memory of one of the worst human rights abominations on record reflects poorly on the world body. Better late than never, I suppose.
For IHRD to make a major impact, dry facts in school textbooks aren’t enough. Without survivors and the poignant, living connection with history they provide, there’s a risk the day will seem less real, more remote. Historically, survivors have been central to Holocaust commemoration and education. When they recount their harrowing, heart-wrenching experiences, it’s not so much a history lesson as a gripping personal testimony, illustrating what can happen when a society forsakes basic human values and allows hate to go unchecked.