International Holocaust Remembrance Day is Thursday, January 27, 2022. Designated by the United Nations in 2005, this day serves two purposes: to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world. We sat down with real estate attorney Bobby Dishell on how his family reflects on the Holocaust, resources to educate ourselves, organizations you can support, and more.
Do you and your family have any traditions for International Holocaust Remembrance Day? What do you do to remember those lost?
Bobby: While we don’t have any particular traditions, we often reflect on and discuss those we know who didn’t make it, liberating those who are still oppressed, and increasing antisemitism throughout America and beyond.
My younger brother had the opportunity to go on the March of the Living. While there, he was able to see our family names and all those who were victims of the Holocaust. While our name had some different spelling variations, it is always somber. On my mom’s side, she had a family member escape Nazi Germany, who, I believe, made it to America.
As Jews – and other people across the globe – we pledge each year for “Never Again.” Never Again can or should we allow the Holocaust to happen. However, genocide continues in our world every day. We reflect on how we can better engage in Tikkun Olam (a Jewish principle for “Healing the World”) to give back and work to help liberate those who are still oppressed.
We also reflect on the continuing rise in antisemitism in America and worldwide. Most prominently, on January 15, a gunman took members of a synagogue and their Rabbi hostage during Shabbat services and a Bar Mitzvah. This was followed by the media refusing to acknowledge that this was an anti-semitic attack, despite the choice of location, day, and slurs spewed by the gunman. While it may only be one newscycle, these events deeply impact the Jewish community and those who work in the Jewish community, who are regularly trained in active shooter situations and remain on high alert after the attacks. While we mourn those of the past, we think about ways to stay aware and live our lives as proud Jews in a safe way. We continue to see a rise in those who believe the Holocaust did not happen and those who make comparisons to the Holocaust and trivialize it (such as those who compare mask mandates to the Holocaust.) It is often an uncomfortable reminder of the importance of a strong Jewish community.
For those that may not be educated about the Holocaust, but want to join in on the day of remembrance, how can we do so?
Bobby: First of all, tell their stories. They say a person dies twice, once when you leave the earth and once when your name is spoken for the last time. These stories are gory, gruesome, grotesque, and uncomfortable, and they should be.
Second, education is key – commit to standing up against antisemitism, including the use of old antisemitic tropes, and this journey can start with education. Be an ally to Jews in times of need and in times of perceived comfort when there isn’t conflict. According to a study by Claims Conference and analyzed and published by The Guardian, more than 60% of young Americans aged 18-39 surveyed in 2020 did not know that more than six million Jews were murdered, and almost 1/3 thought the number was less than that. Some believed Jews caused the Holocaust, and nearly half (47%) did not know what Auschwitz was.
Third, listen to or read the stories of survivors. Steven Spielberg embarked on a journey in an attempt to record as many stories of survivors as he could. Some communities spend hours reading the names of survivors. It takes them at least 24 hours. While this is often on Yom HaShoah, there is an opportunity to be involved now or in the future.
Finally, read the nonfiction books of accounts of survivors or those who worked with survivors.
Are there any organizations we can support on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and beyond to support the education of the Holocaust?
Bobby: You can support any organization that focuses on the strength of the Jewish people and protecting against antisemitism. Here are a few that are solely focused on the Holocaust and its remembrance:
- US Holocaust Museum
- YadVashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
- Anti-Defamation League: An anti-hate organization whose goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination, or hate.
- International March of the Living: Organizes the international education program in Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance, and hatred.
- BBYO: A leading Jewish youth organization that educates and helps youth instill a strong, pluralistic Jewish identity and build leadership skills.
- Protect the Facts: An organization dedicated to fighting Holocaust denial and distortion.
- We Remember: A campaign dedicated to the education of the Holocaust and its victims.
Bobby’s family “traditions” for honoring the victims of the Holocaust and their memory are one of many ways to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Whether you watch a documentary, read a victim’s memoir, or visit a museum, there are myriad opportunities to ensure the memory of this tragic time lives on for years to come.
Many Jews and Israelis also observe Yom HaShoah (Day of the Shoah/Holocaust), which takes place from the evening of April 27th and ends on the evening of April 28th. It’s important to educate yourself, remember the lives lost, and stop the spread of hate towards people different from yourself.