Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016

Seventy-one years ago today, the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. One million people died there during WWII.

There is a strong instinct to turn away from such horrors—to know them in our heads, but to keep them out of our hearts. The pain of remembrance—and the collective guilt at having failed to prevent the Holocaust—can be overwhelming. But without it, we not only dishonor the victims and survivors of genocide, we risk forgetting a terrible truth: that there is, in the heart of mankind, capacity for great evil whenever the inherent dignity of individuals is denied. We must remember.

That is why the United Nations General Assembly designated today as International Holocaust Remembrance Day—to honor the six million European Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime and to ensure that future generations learn the lessons of the Holocaust so they can prevent genocide.

A new vision for the world emerged from the terrible crucible of WWII and the Holocaust. That vision, reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirms the inherent dignity and value of all members of the human family and declares that respect for human rights is the foundation of peace and security.

The challenges to this vision are persistent—and potent. Today, a toxic mix of factors—the rise of far-right nationalist parties, struggling economies, and an extremist fringe that exploits marginalized Muslim immigrants—have converged to drive antisemitism and hate crime to alarming levels across Europe, leading many Jews to wonder if there is a future for their families on the continent.

At Human Rights First, we view antisemitism not simply as a threat to Jews, but as a grave threat to human rights and democratic ideals. That is why we’re leading an effort to ensure that our own government makes combating global antisemitism a foreign policy priority. We support frontline activists, build powerful coalitions across government and civil society, and urge government leaders to challenge antisemitic words and actions in the public square.

For Holocaust Remembrance to have real meaning, we must not only remember, but act. Thank you for joining us as we work to build resilient, democratic societies that respect the universal rights and inherent dignity of all people.

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Published on January 27, 2016

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