International Holocaust Remembrance Day

On January 27, 2006, the United Nations Department of Public Information held the first universal observance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day at United Nations Headquarters.

Here’s some info about the day from Wikipedia:

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is meant to commemorate the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 8.7 million Slavs, 1.8 million ethnic Poles, 220,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 312,000 Serb civilians, 1,900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

Startling numbers, and sad to think about the sheer magnitude of such a tragedy.

I was not aware of this special day until today when I read a story in the news about a member of Thailand’s most popular all-girl band who apologized for wearing a shirt with a Nazi flag featuring a swastika. Her TV appearance drew “shock and dismay” from the Israeli embassy in Bangkok.

Following the uproar, the singer offered what appeared to be a sincere apology while onstage during a concert on Saturday night. “I want this to be an example for everyone, please forgive me,” the 19-year-old singer said, bursting into tears.

In an extended apology posted on her official Facebook page, she later wrote: “Please give me advice so that I can grow up to be a good adult in the future. I cannot fix the mistake but I promise I will not let it happen again.”

The next day, the singer and the manager of her band met with Israeli ambassador Meir Shlomo to apologize for the incident, and the band agreed to participate in an educational workshop on the Holocaust.

It seems like she is doing all the right things to make up for what she did.

The ambassador was “pleased” and understands that Namsai’s act came from a “lack of knowledge and lack of awareness”, and the article mentioned that Thailand’s educational system may be to blame. As one person noted, “what do you expect? When we were in school, they teach only about Thailand and Myanmar wars.”

I looked into this a bit more. A 2014 report between the Georg Eckert Institute and UNESCO looked at Holocaust education around the world and the results were surprising. In total, 57 curricula clearly stipulate the Holocaust with a direct reference to words such as “Holocaust” or “Shoah”, while 28 do not. The countries which make no reference to the Holocaust in their curricula include Egypt, Palestine, New Zealand, Iraq, and Thailand.

So that perhaps puts the Thai singer’s behavior in perspective. It seemed that once she learned about the horror of the Holocaust, she was genuinely apologetic and wanted to learn more about it.

The story also reminded me about the great book by Tara Westover I recently read and wrote about, Educated. Here’s an excerpt from Bill Gates review of the book:

Tara was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her dad had very non-mainstream views about the government. He believed doomsday was coming, and that the family should interact with the health and education systems as little as possible. As a result, she didn’t step foot in a classroom until she was 17.

As a result of being kept out of the school system, it wasn’t until Tara was a freshman in college that she first heard of the Holocaust.

“I don’t know this word,” she told a professor in class. “What does it mean?”

“There was a silence,” Westover writes in her memoir. “Not a hush, not a muting of the noise, but utter, almost violent silence . . . The professor’s lips tightened. ‘Thanks for that,’ he said, then returned to his notes.”

Her outraged fellow students assumed she was making a sick joke.

Unfortunately, Westover’s lack of knowledge about the Holocaust is not unique among Americans.

A 2018 poll found that two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults. Twenty-two percent of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they’ve heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.

On a more positive note, the survey also found that despite the lack of historical knowledge, there was a desire for Holocaust education — 93 percent of the respondents believed that all students should learn about the Holocaust in school.

So it’s clear that we need a day like today as a way to not only remember the Holocaust, but for many people, as a way to make them aware of it for the first time.

Education is the best way to ensure that such tragedies do not repeat themselves.

*image from the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

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