29 January 2021
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date was chosen to reflect the day on which the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated. This annual day of remembrance prompts the world to reflect on the genocide of six million European Jews and five million more victims, including minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, political dissidents, and others. As our world contorts and evolves, we must continue to make the most of shared opportunities like this one to look back and recount what happened. It is yet another chance to remind ourselves of who we are as a Jewish people and who we need to be for ourselves and others in the world today.
Importantly, in studying the history, stories, horrors, and heroics of the Holocaust, we live up to the fundamental responsibility we share to honor the victims and care for survivors.
Federation is proud to partner with JSSA and JCRC in advocating for and providing essential services to Holocaust survivors in Greater Washington. We also work closely with JDC and The Jewish Agency for Israel to ensure that the many survivors beyond our borders, including in the former Soviet Union, Israel, and elsewhere, have what they need to live with independence and dignity. In addition, we champion efforts led by JCRC and other local organizations that connect people with survivors and advance educational programs that help new generations learn about the Holocaust.
Commemorating the horrors of that time also helps us to be better advocates for those who are currently experiencing hatred, violence, bias, and scapegoating. In the United States, our community members and neighbors of color are still endeavoring to live free from brutality and systemic discrimination—all while being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and economic crisis. And in countries around the world, people of all backgrounds are using their voices to push back against gender-based violence, religious persecution, and oppression. Our history obligates us not simply to be witnesses to these wrongs but to play an active role in standing up to them.
This includes remaining vigilant against anti-Semitism and bigoted ideologies that can take hold of a society. We know that anti-Semitism has been on the rise since 2013. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2019 saw the largest number of incidents in forty years, evidence of an alarming trend that extends across both sides of the Atlantic. We also know that the voices of white supremacists and other hate groups are growing louder. By looking back on our history, we can draw lessons about moral courage that are more relevant than ever.
As we lose more survivors in the coming years, we must continue studying our past and seeking out firsthand accounts of the Holocaust that have been recorded for posterity. We do this to remember what can and did happen to us as Jews and what can and did happen to people who are systematically stripped of their humanity. The Holocaust is a painful and critical part of our story, and ensuring this chapter is never forgotten is important both for the future of Jewish peoplehood and for the world.