January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and, in 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a UNESCO World Heritage site. More than 1.1 million people were killed in Auschwitz, including nearly 1 million Jews and tens of thousands of Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war and political opponents of the Nazis from across Europe.
Commemorations are taking place from January 26-28 at UNESCO in Paris, including: a performance by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 “Babi Yar” on January 26; a round table on January 27 with artists and representatives of survivor organizations, in partnership with The Shoah Memorial and France Culture, to examine the main challenges of passing on the history and memory of the Holocaust more than three generations after it took place; and an official ceremony with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve on January 27.
U.S. Ambassador Nix-Hines is representing the United States as part of the official U.S. Presidential delegation to Auschwitz, Poland, on January 27. The Honorable Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Department of Treasury, leads the delegation. Other members of the Presidential Delegation include: The Honorable Stephen D. Mull, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Poland, Department of State; The Honorable David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Department of State; Dr. Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Director for European Affairs, National Security Council; Mr. Nicholas Dean, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State; Ms. Aviva Sufian, Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services, Department of Health and Human Services; Mr. Israel Arbeiter, Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivor; Mrs. Irene Weiss, Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivor; and, Mr. David Harris, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee. The delegation will participate in the commemoration at Auschwitz-Birkenau with an anticipated 300 survivors as well as more than 40 official state delegations, including heads of state and government, and royalty.
A testament of respect to those who survived and a tribute to the memory of the victims, this International Day is also is a call for action. It is an opportunity to engage in further efforts against anti-Semitism and racism, and to develop educational programs that will help prevent similar atrocities in the future. Education has a vital role to play in fostering a culture of prevention, undermining prejudice, promoting peaceful co-existence and human rights, and cultivating respect for all peoples. The further the genocide recedes in time, and as the last survivors pass on, the greater the need to teach about it, and understand its meaning.
UNESCO—the only UN agency with a mandate to promote Holocaust education worldwide for the prevention of genocide—promotes policies and initiatives that promote on a global level education about the genocide, believing that it will help young people, whatever their origin and culture, become more aware of the mechanisms that can lead societies to descend into violence, and how to prevent it. UNESCO recognizes that teaching about the history of the Holocaust is fundamental to establishing respect for human rights, basic freedoms and the values of tolerance and mutual respect. UNESCO promotes learning materials and provides a platform for institutions, teachers, students and interested parties to access resources on Education for Holocaust Remembrance. Further to a Resolution adopted by UNESCO’s 34th session of the General Conference in 2007 (Resolution 61 on Holocaust remembrance through education), the Organization works with major specialized institutions and inter-governmental bodies to engage policymakers, educators and students in a critical reflection about the roots of genocide and the necessity to nurture peace and human rights to prevent such atrocities in the future.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has said: “UNESCO was established in the wake of the Holocaust on the conviction that lasting peace must draw on the mutual understanding of peoples and cultures, nurtured through education and knowledge sharing, in ways that highlight the best of humanity in ourselves. The Holocaust has shown us the worst of ourselves, and remembrance of the victims must accompany us in our quest for a world where such horrors will never reoccur.”
With only one-third of countries worldwide teaching about the Holocaust, and with anti-Semitism and ethnic conflict rising, UNESCO is seeking to significantly advance its mandate on these themes by making Holocaust and genocide prevention education universal for current and future generations.