Remember, Honor and Be Responsible on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” – Elie Wiesel

Today is January 27. On the same day in 1945 the Red Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and found just 750 survivors. In 2005, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, the United Nations adopted a resolution designating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The UN invited all member states to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and design educational programs and initiatives to prevent the repetition of acts of genocide in our societies.   

Today is January 27. For many people it is an ordinary winter day. For those who lost their family members, relatives and friends during the Second World War, it is a day full of sorrow. It is a warning about the biggest failure of human civilization, as the war took over 60 million lives and left in its wake countless unspoken destinies. The lessons of history teach us that Germany was the most educated nation in the world at that time yet it voted for a political leadership that initiated the most horrible military conflict in the history of humankind.

Today is January 27. For Roma, this is a somber day that reminds us of more than seventy years of institutional silence and misrecognition of the Roma genocide. The silence lasted so long that today’s generations have little knowledge or understanding about the deeds of humanity’s darkest ideology. Any facts or narratives about Nazi cruelties against Roma are largely absent from school textbooks. The Roma population, preoccupied by poverty and an absence of its own institutions, continues to depend on the research and education institutions to unravel the facts about this forgotten, untold episode of European and Roma history. For instance, REF Chair Andrzej Mirga has campaigned tirelessly to have the Roma Holocaust officially recognized and he joins me today to write about the significance of the struggle to educate the public about Nazi atrocities that are estimated to have killed over a half million Roma.

Despite the fact that we are living in what may be considered humanity’s most educated and technologically advanced age, the Roma still are treated universally as outcasts. Whether Christian or Muslim, East or West, the same racist narratives and beliefs about Roma are acute in society-at-large and its institutions, stoked at present by a growing extreme right-wing ideology. Indeed, neoconservative radicalism easily may assume power in Europe again, and it seeks to deny the truth, some 72 years after the Nazi era, about the abject suffering of the Roma people.

REF invites all its partners and beneficiaries to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust with one minute of silence today. This tribute is a symbolic gesture that we have not forgotten what happened to our families several generations ago, and at the same time sends a signal to future generations that we are ready to take responsibility that such evil acts never happen again.