World leaders and communities throughout the globe will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, January 27, with ceremonies, memorials, and events intended to honor victims of the Holocaust and World War II.
While Israel remembers the Holocaust on the Hebrew date of the 27th of Nisan, which usually falls out in May, it is commemorated internationally on the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, which occurred 71 years ago in 1945.
Among those set to recognize the solemnity of the day is American president Barack Obama, who is scheduled to attend a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. The ceremony will honor four people considered Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who risked their lives to save or help Jews during the Holocaust.
One of the men being honored is US Army master-sergeant Roddie Edmonds, from Tennessee, who, along with his soldiers, was imprisoned in a German POW camp during World War II. When asked to identify the Jewish soldiers under his command, Edmonds refused, responding, “We are all Jews.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the significance of Obama’s decision to attend the event, pointing out at his Sunday cabinet meeting that the American president has not visited the Israeli embassy in the US for many years. He called the event a “testament that the US-Israel relationship…is very strong and stable”, despite recent tensions between the two allies.
In his own remarks on the occasion, Netanyahu said that preserving the memory of the Holocaust was more important than ever in a “period of resurgent and sometimes violent anti-Semitism.”
“It is commemorations like this that remind us all where the oldest and most enduring hatred can lead,” he said. He warned, however, that in Europe and elsewhere, “Jews are once again being targeted just for being Jews,” drawing attention to hatred against individual Jews, the collective Jew and the Jewish state.
“Israel is targeted with the same slurs and the same libels that were leveled against the Jewish people since time immemorial,” he said in his statement. “The obsession with the Jews – the fixation on the Jewish state – defies any other rational explanation.”
Netanyahu pointed out that despite horrifying human rights violations perpetrated by ISIS, North Korea, Iran and Syria, the UN Human Rights Council condemns Israel more often than all of them put together. “Some things just don’t change,” he said.
But, he added, one very important thing has changed – the Jews themselves. “We are no longer a stateless people endlessly searching for a safe haven. We are no longer a powerless people begging others to offer us protection,” he said. “Today we are an independent and sovereign people in our own homeland….Today we can protect ourselves and defend our freedom.”
He concluded that while Israel would protect itself from the openly-declared goals of Iran, ISIS and Hamas to destroy the Jews, “Europe and the rest of the world must stand up together with us. Not for our sake; for theirs.”
Several European leaders also made statements commemorating the day and drawing parallels between the Europe which allowed the Holocaust to happen and modern-day anti-Semitism. In a message to European Jewry on Tuesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that he had never imagined that 71 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Jews in France would be told to hide their kippahs, Jewish schools and synagogues would have to be guarded, and Europe would be so inhospitable to Jews that immigration to Israel would reach an all-time high.
Juncker said that it was of the utmost importance to “counter the dangerous rise of extremism, racism, xenophobia, nationalism and anti-Semitism.” He added, “We are determined: Never again. Because a Europe of hate is one that we refuse. Because a Europe without Jews would be no longer Europe.”
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently admitted that anti-Semitism in Germany is “more widespread than we imagine,” opened an exhibition of Holocaust art in Berlin featuring 100 works by 50 Jewish Holocaust inmates and survivors, on loan from the Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.
“The millions of individual stories during the Shoah remain deeply rooted in our national conscience,” said Merkel at the opening of the show, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.
At the site of Auschwitz itself, which was liberated by Allied troops on January 27, 1945, Polish President Andrzej Duda is expected to attend the annual memorial ceremony on Wednesday, along with Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Events and ceremonies marking the day will also take place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and at the United Nations complex in New York.
Last week, the Vatican issued a statement recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying that the day “calls for a universal and ever deeper respect for the dignity of every person.”
A Vatican representative said, “In remembering the Holocaust, we also remember that unless all men and women are recognized as one great family and unless we coexist with both neighbor and stranger, inhumanity awaits us.”