Memory, dignity, and justice: International Holocaust Remembrance Day 

A Holocaust vigil organized by Hillel at Holocaust Remembrance at a university where I was invited to give a lecture. (courtesy)
A Holocaust vigil organized by Hillel at Holocaust Remembrance at a university where I was invited to give a lecture. (courtesy)

This year there is a worldwide campaign against distortion of the Holocaust, because “Holocaust distortion causes antisemitism. The goal of this article is to clarify some basic definitions, because there is some misinformation. For almost 30 years, when I was teaching the Holocaust course, hundreds of my students asked me: What’s the difference between Yom HaShoah and International Holocaust Remembrance Day? In the wake of the remembrance ceremonies of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is appropriate to present a definition of those terms.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated in Israel and other countries

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/7 designated January 27 as the “International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities;” on this annual day of commemoration, the United Nations urges every member state to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims and “the courage and dedication shown by the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps, and to develop educational programs, “in order to avoid repetition of genocides such as those committed by the Nazi regime. – ” as per the exact text of the “United Nations Resolution 60/7. Holocaust.”

The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau ( the largest and most notorious of all of the camps) by the Red army, Soviet troops on January, 27 1945.

“Not all the victims of the Holocaust were Jews, but all Jews were victims. It is best when referencing the total number of victims of the Holocaust to say six million Jews and millions of others,” Elie Wiesel appropriately declared.

May their voice never be silenced 

May your voice be heard 

Remember and speak up for empathy, all-inclusiveness, inherent dignity and equality!

The United Nations General Assembly adopted “Resolution 60/7 – Holocaust remembrance” during its 60th session, Agenda item 72, at its 42nd plenary meeting on November 1, 2005.

The Holocaust was the ideological, systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of millions of innocent civilians, perceived as “threats” or “enemies” of the “Aryan” race and the Nazi state, and who were targeted for racial, ethnic, national, political and behavioral reasons, by Hitler’s barbaric regime and its collaborators, between 1933 and 1945; however, the priority target was the Jews. The Holocaust evolved in a series of different processes, and took different shapes in countries and territories, occupied by Germany, or under the Nazi sphere of influence, in a Nazi attempt to implement a global “Final Solution to the Jewish question” and to create an exclusive racist world dominated by the “Aryan” master race. By the end of World War II in 1945, the Holocaust resulted in many genocides, the death of six million Jews and millions of members of other groups.

That global project of a Nazi new racist world order demanded “Aryanization,” enslavement, persecution and murder of the Undesirables — the mentally and physically challenged, Jews, political and religious dissidents, members of the clergy, Blacks,Roma-Sinti/Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of the Slavs -Christian Poles and Soviets-, and other unwanted). “National Socialism tried to determine who should and should not inhabit the world.” – Saul Friedlander at UCLA.

“Why did the Nazi regime systematically target, persecute, and ultimately murder millions of Jews, political opponents, Roma-Sinti…? The main percepts of Nazi ideology that conceived and motivated the Holocaust must be used to identify its victims. … The Holocaust “was motivated by a murderous ideology …

National Socialism {Nazism} did not just inflict horrendous suffering on many millions of people, …and genocide, but it proposed to reorganize humanity …according to race … all over the globe. … Nazism’s goal to reorganize humanity according to race all over the globe did not endanger the Jews only. The Nazis planned to implement a global solution to the Jewish question, and create a racist world dominated by the ‘Aryan” race. …’” — Yehuda Bauer, Dean Holocaust Studies, a most respected authority on the Holocaust.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day honor the six million Jewish victims AND millions of other undesirables, while Yom HaShoah only honors the memory of the Jews. That’s why Holocaust is not the English translation of the Hebrew word Shoah, and does not refer to “Shoah, the Holocaust of the Jewish people, the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.” – Y. Bauer. But many translate Shoah to Holocaust, causing confusion. Hundreds of my students, familiar with the UN resolution and Elie Wiesel’s statements had negative feelings toward those who have been promoting the term Shoah as the translation of Holocaust.

Yom HaShoah (Hebrew word for catastrophe)  

commemoration of the disaster brought upon the Jewish people and the acts of heroism and revolt performed.” Yom HaShoah is observed as Israel’s national day “to commemorate the six million members of the Jewish people who died a martyr’s death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. … the fortitude of the Jews who gave their lives … the sublime, persistent struggle of the masses of the House of Israel, on the threshold of destruction, for their human dignity and Jewish culture,” as stated in the Yad Vashem Israeli law.  Ahdut am, ahdut goral – One people, one destiny. “The 12 years of the Nazi regime, from its rise in 1933 to its demise in 1945, represent the most tragic era in Jewish history. … Of the total world Jewish population of eighteen million in 1939, one in three had been killed.” – Israel Gutman at Yad Vashem.

The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, passed a law in 1959, to observe Yom HaShoah on the 27th of Nisan (date with the name of a month in the Hebrew calendar which falls in April or May). The date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto Uprising.

Shoah, the Holocaust of the Jewish people,” was the ideological, systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of millions of Jews by Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators, between 1933 and 1945, in the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people. Shoah, was “the war against the Jews” wherever the Nazi regime and its collaborators could find them. From Europe, including Europe’s French and Italian possessions in European North Africa, to the Middle East and Asia (Iraq and Shanghai, there was no exception in the Nazi regime’s attempt to murder every last Jew within its grasp, in order to create “a world without Jews.”

Shoah was driven by one of the most important tenet in Nazi ideology, racial antisemitism. “Under the cover of the war, Nazi bureaucracy, technology, and psychology of hate devoted themselves to killing millions of people it deemed undesirables. The priority target, however, was the Jews, wherever the Nazi regime its allies could find them in the world, and for purely ideological reasons.” – Yehuda Bauer, Dean Holocaust Studies, a most respected authority on the Holocaust.  “1) Nazis sought to murder every Jew everywhere, regardless of age, gender, beliefs, or actions; and 2) the Nazi leadership held that ridding the world of the Jewish presence would be beneficial to the German people and all mankind, although in re the Jews posed no threat. Grounded in a spurious racist ideology that considered the “the destructive race,” it was this idea, more than any other that eventually led to the implementation of the murderous policy known as the Final Solution.” — Yad Vashem.

I hope the above clarify the differences between Yom Hashoah and International Holocaust Remembrance Day

About the Author
Edith Shaked Perlman is an Advisory Board Member of H-Holocaust, an international academic consortium/H-Net's Network for scholars of the Holocaust. Certificate of Appreciation, National Council for History Education -NCHE. Retired Holocaust Educator trained at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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