Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Day of Commemoration

The General Assembly of the United Nations has designated today, the 27th of January, as the International Day of Commemoration to honor the victims of the Holocaust. This year, the theme is "The Legacy of Survival," emphasizing the universal lessons that survivors pass on to succeeding generations.

On this day in 1945, the concentration camp at Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Army; 5,000 prisoners had been left behind to die and many survived to bear witness to the atrocities committed at the camp, helping to both hunt down and prosecute fugitive Nazi criminals. It is estimated more than a million people died in Auschwitz; a staggering 90% were Jewish or of Jewish origin. The other groups who died in large numbers were Sinti and Roma (gypsies), Poles and Soviet prisoners-of-war; gay people and people with disabilities also perished in the camp, often after months of slave labor.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in 2007: "The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights. [...] We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples must enjoy the protections and rights for which the United Nations stands."

In honor of the millions who suffered and died during the Holocaust, I'd like to recommend a book that, for me, became a profoundly transformative experience when I first read it in my teens: Elie Wiesel's Night. Now a Nobel laureate and the author of fifty-seven books, Mr Wiesel and his family were deported to Auschwitz when he was just 16 years old; he spent eleven months in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. What he saw and underwent are unforgettable. Written with devastating simplicity, Night is one of the most important personal testaments about the Holocaust. Mr Wiesel once said, "In Night, I wanted to show the finality of the event. Everything came to an end—man, history, literature, religion, God. There was nothing left. And yet we begin again with night."

מאי אנחנו לעולם לא אשכח
May we never forget.

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