Why International Holocaust Memorial Day is Important Today

AP- Tillerson Poland Memorial

January 27 is a day for the world to remember the six million Jews and millions of other minorities who were killed by the Nazis during WW2

It is estimated that 6 million Jewish people were brutally slaughtered during WW2, as well as millions of others in different ethnic groups and minorities, such as the disabled. Anyone that did not fit with Hitler’s “Master Race”.

The world remembers them on January 27th each year, although here in America, we also have a Holocaust Memorial Day that begins on April 11th at sunset and ends on April 12th at nightfall.

Hitler’s genocide wiped out 2/3rds of the Jewish population in Europe at the time, including 1.5 million children. This occurred between 1941–1945 and few survived. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was one of them, as well as Dr. Viktor Emil Frankl, a renowned Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. His best selling book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, details his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living. As a practicing Stoic, and just a human being, I highly recommend reading this book.

However, International Holocaust Memorial Day does not stop with never forgetting the atrocities committed by Hitler and his followers during WW2. It is also about remembering other horrific instances of genocide, such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Each year, there is a theme involved with this day, and this year’s theme was “How Can Life Go On?”. The event’s organizers explain: “It’s a time for everyone to pause to remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives have been changed beyond recognition during the genocides. On HMD we can honor the survivors of these regimes and challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today.”

This is a time when we can learn the lessons of the past and to realize that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which begins when discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. Discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion.

There is still a lot of work to be done, and learning from the past, remembering on days such as this, is an opportunity to start this process.

The date was chosen as it was the day of liberation of the concentration camp, Auschwitz. The camp was liberated about eight months before the war ended, by the Soviets. However, most of the prisoners had already been sent out on a death march. Around 7,000 prisoners were still alive when the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

In the five years it was open, roughly 1.1 million people were killed there. Around 90 per cent of them were Jewish, while the other victims were generally Romany, Polish and Soviet people.

One in six of the Jews killed during the war died at Auschwitz, in what the Nazis called Hitler’s Final Solution.

In my own family, my husband’s great-grandparents were liberated from Dachau. They were not Jewish, they were Polish, their crime being, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They ended up in France, then eventually the United States, in New Jersey. They found a phenomenal Polish community there, and lived out their days with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren surrounding them when possible.

Helena, his grandmother, never learned to speak much English, and until the day she passed away, was terrified of guttural languages, anyone who spoke too loudly or sharply, and would not be alone in a room with a man other than her family members. Her oldest son was the product of rape during her time in Dachau. She never loved him any less than the rest of her four children.

I had so much respect for this tiny lady, 4’5, 75 lbs soaking wet, who could (I imagined) swear a blue streak in Polish when someone invaded her kitchen, smack her husband, Stanislaus with a wet dish towel when he would come “test” whatever she was cooking, before he even knew it was coming, who accepted me immediately, even though we couldn’t communicate with words, and who was just a phenomenal woman.

“Stan” was pretty amazing as well. Give him a broken piece of machinery, a table saw, washing machine, car engine, it didn’t matter. Let him walk around it for a bit, make his noises, possibly kick it, say ugly things to it in Polish, then he would pronounce, “I fix it, it stupid machine, I smart man, I got this. Two days, tops!”.

I might be a little longer, depended on how much vodka he needed, ha!

They converted to Catholicism once they came to the states, as it was told to me, they were afraid that being JW’s almost ended their lives, so they could not worship in that way any longer. Regardless of their beliefs, they were two of the strongest, most amazing people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. I wish I had known them longer, but am blessed they made it out of the hell that they did, so that I could meet them at all. And have the opportunity to have my husband.

Call to Action:

It’s simple. Love one another.

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