Jack Gottlieb
Founder of World Jewish Travel

International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations — Should We Care?

Nova Music Festival memorial in Re'im Israel, uploaded by Jose HERNANDEZ Camera 51 via Shutterstock
Nova Music Festival memorial in Re'im Israel, uploaded by Jose HERNANDEZ Camera 51 via Shutterstock

As the son of Holocaust survivors, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day held annually on the 27th of January by the United Nations, holds a profound personal significance to me. This year, the memorial ceremony will take place on Friday, 26th January 2024, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST, in the UN General Assembly Hall, United Nations Headquarters.

The goals of the day are twofold: first, to remember and honor those who were massacred during the Holocaust, and second, to educate future generations about its horrors.

However, this year this day resonates deeply and painfully for all Jews, given the events that occurred on Black Saturday, 7th October. Further complicating the landscape of commemoration in the wake of Black Saturday, is the widespread antisemitism in its aftermath and Israel defending itself against accusations of genocide at The Hague, ironically a branch of the United Nations!

Given this backdrop, next week’s commemoration at the UN poses an immediate challenge of how to contextualize Black Saturday in the shadow of the Holocaust. That is only natural. Questions inevitably arise as to how to commemorate any destructive event, especially when it occurs on such a massive scale. How does one honor the victims of murder, rape, and pillaging on that horrific day, let alone the extensive ensuing kidnapping of elderly men, women and children?

It is, therefore, no wonder that the settlements and kibbutzim that were overrun by Hamas on October 7th have become a magnet for solidarity missions. Not a day goes by without multiple missions traveling to the south of Israel, attracting multiple celebrities of the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Elon Musk. 

In fact, the multitude of missions and the goals of these missions are already generating a bit of controversy. Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz has objected to the Disney-like exploitative quality of this kind of disaster tourism and instead suggests people should visit Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem Hall of Names by David Shankbone

Of course, that suggestion did not go over well with Yad Vashem, which has objected to any comparison of Black Saturday as a second Holocaust. Other pundits with dubious intentions have deemed Black Saturday a bad pogrom, at best, citing other pogroms in Europe that have suffered much higher casualty counts.

The truth of the matter is that Black Saturday defies comparison. Although the quantities may be small by comparison, the quality and impact of the attack was certainly unique. Furthermore, faulty comparisons of that nature only serve both to trivialize the Holocaust and downplay what sets Black Saturday apart. 

In general, commemorating cataclysmic upheavals in Jewish history is inherently challenging. Museums, monuments and events, such as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, help preserve the memory of the Holocaust. The absence of a dedicated memorial in the South leaves us no choice other than to use these partially destroyed settlements as a living memorial to Black Saturday.

Given the lack of a proper memorial, these missions should be encouraged until a fitting museum or monument has been properly conceived and constructed. It is certainly important that these missions be conducted in good taste and coordinated with local authorities.

It cannot be disputed that dark tourism is popular, among Jews and non-Jews alike. It is well known that Holocaust sites such as death camps, concentration camps and forced labor camps are popular tourist attractions. Auschwitz alone draws half a million tourists a year, half of them, surprisingly enough, non Jews. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam attracts nearly twice as many visitors as Auschwitz, with 900,000 visitors coming in 2022.

That’s a good thing. In these days of increased antisemitism these sites serve as a counterpoint to the conflated claims (e.g. The Hague Court) that what is happening in Gaza is genocide or that the Holocaust never occurred. 

As a proponent of Jewish travel, my nonprofit is also coming to grips with these challenges as well. That is why on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, World Jewish Travel, a Jewish TripAdvisor, is launching a Dark Tourism Portal.

The goal of the Dark Tourism Portal at World Jewish Travel is to map out different kinds of sites related to cataclysms, stark reminders of man’s inhumanity to man, especially Jews. Here too, we created a category called Black Saturday, so that until a more fitting memorial can be constructed, people can show their solidarity with Otef Aza (Gaza Envelope) by taking these trips with qualified tour operators and knowledgeable guides.

In this portal, aside from iconic Holocaust sites, you can also find events memorializing the tragedy of Black Saturday. Kidnap Square in Tel Aviv reminds us of the ongoing suffering of the kidnapped and their families. The site of the Nova Dance Party has also been turned into a living exposition of the massacre which is in stark contrast to its original goal of celebrating peace and love on October 7. 

The International Day of Holocaust Remembrance, given the current environment, will be a very contentious day at the UN.  Sadly, it will probably serve as a lightning rod for accusations of genocide from Gaza War protesters, who will ironically chant the genocidal call “From the River to the Sea”. 

For us Jews, however, it acts as a reminder that events like Black Saturday deserve its own kind of commemoration, distinct from the Holocaust. It also serves as a poignant warning that cataclysmic events can unfold in Diaspora, and, yes, even in Israel.

About the Author
Jack Gottlieb, founder and president of the World Jewish Travel, is an American businessman highly involved in philanthropic causes, who spends most of his time in Israel these days.