Holocaust Remembrance Day

Joyce Herman, Founder and former Director, NCBI Rochester

 January 27, was the 76th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s Red Army liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz and the death camp at Birkenau. The date is recognized by the UN and the European Union as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jews, Slavs, Romani people, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political groups (especially Communists) were targeted for destruction by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Two-thirds of European Jews were destroyed.

One definition of genocide is “a coordinated strategy to destroy a group of people, a process that could be accomplished through total annihilation as well as strategies that eliminate key elements of the group’s basic existence, including language, culture, and economic infrastructure.”

A recent survey of 11,000 adults under forty, 1 in 10 had never previously heard the word “holocaust.” Among millennials, two-thirds did not know what Auschwitz was. Why remember? First, to honor and bless the memory of those who suffered. Second, ask what it means now. Can we face and remember the genocide of the Jews in Europe (this ultimately led to unforeseen suffering for the German gentile perpetrators as well)? The genocide of indigenous peoples in the U.S. and elsewhere? The genocide of African peoples by Europeans and in the U.S.?

These horrendous genocides can remind us we all share a vulnerability to suffering, That recognition can lead us to withdraw into protecting our own, or it can be a revitalizing force for embracing our common humanity and acknowledging our fates are wound together.Wise ones remind us that vulnerability can lead to courage — may it be the courage to speak out now and take action against all manifestations of racism, anti-Semitism and other oppressions.