What is International Holocaust Remembrance Day?


January 27 is a global day of reminder and commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. Germany has only been celebrating the day since 1996, in Israel the commemoration began much earlier – on a different day.

Exhibition in Auschwitz-Birkenau: Hundreds of photos and fates and yet only a very small part of the victims of Nazi terror in the Holocaust

United Nations : Warning against hate and racism

In November 2005, the UN General Assembly (Resolution 60/7) declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She declared “that the Holocaust, in which a third of the Jewish people were murdered as well as countless members of other minorities, will forever serve as a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, intolerance, racism and prejudice”. Germany and other countries had introduced the commemoration day earlier.

On January 27, 2006, the first global International Holocaust Remembrance Day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “The unique tragedy of the Holocaust is irreversible. It must be remembered with shame and horror for as long as human memory lasts.”

Why January 27th?

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet forces, the Red Army, liberated the Nazi concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The soldiers encountered a few survivors, the rubble of the gas chambers, the dead and the ashes of the murdered. In Auschwitz alone, around 1.1 million people were murdered, the vast majority, around 90 percent, were Jews – and Auschwitz was just one from numerous sites of persecution and mass murder by Nazi Germany in Europe.

Auschwitz Memorial: Children, Women and men suffered behind the barbed wire of the Nazi concentration camps – for most of them the liberation came too late

By the end of the Second World War in May 1945, more than six million Jews had died, hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma, people with disabilities, political opponents, people who were persecuted as homosexuals, criminals or “asocial people”, forced labourers, prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses and countless other people against whom the Nazi terror was directed. 

Kofi Annan emphasized: “Remembrance is also a safeguard for the future. The abyss reached in the Nazi death camps began with hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism. Remembering these origins can remind us to always be on the lookout for warning signs .”

Prevention of future genocides

January 27 is a mandate for all UN member states to remember the persecuted and murdered men, women and children. Resolution 60/7 rejects any form of Holocaust denial. She supports the development of educational programs to commemorate the Holocaust and wants to help prevent future genocides.

Holocaust Remembrance Day at the United Nations: Survivor Inge Auerbacher addresses delegates in New York (2019)

Calling on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the resolution condemns all forms of “religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against individuals or communities based on their ethnic origin or religious belief” around the world.

Commemoration in Israel: Yom HaShoa

In Israel, January 27th is not the central day of remembrance, but Yom HaShoa, which usually falls in April. Sirens wail across the country for two minutes: buses, cars, everyone stops. People are silent, thinking of the victims. The internationally used term Holocaust is derived from the Greek and means “completely burned”. In Israel one speaks of the Shoah, the “catastrophe”.

April 28, 2022: People stand in silence on Holocaust Remembrance Day

The “Day of Remembrance of the Shoah and Jewish Heroism” was first established in 1951, and it was regulated more precisely by law in 1959. The day is in the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. It was based on the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. According to Jewish tradition, the day of remembrance begins the evening before. At the commemoration, six torches are lit, symbolizing the six million Jewish victims. Further events will follow in the morning at the Yad Vashem memorial.

April 27, 2022: The President of the German Bundestag, Bärbel Bas commemorating the victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem

On Yom HaShoa, a memorial march traditionally takes place in Poland between the main camp at Auschwitz and the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, around three kilometers away, where most of the people were murdered. Thousands of young Jews usually take part in this “March of the Living”. During the corona pandemic there was a virtual commemoration.

Holocaust memorial day in Germany

After the end of the Second World War with the victory of the Allies over Hitler's Germany, it took another half a century: It was not until 1996 that the then Federal President Roman Herzog declared January 27th a day to commemorate the victims of National Socialism. Since then, the flags have been hanging at half-mast on public buildings in Germany on this day. Many schools take up the topic in class.

Since 1996 there has also been a commemoration hour for the victims of National Socialism in the German Parliament on the day of remembrance itself or in the vicinity. While in the first few years it was mostly German politicians who held the commemorative speech, since then numerous Holocaust survivors and politicians from other countries in the country of the perpetrators have reported to the members of the Bundestag about their experiences: from Israel, the USA, Poland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia or Great Britain. They shared moving experiences and warned. “Never again! Never again!” exclaimed the President of the Israeli Parliament, Mickey Levy, in 2022.

Bundestag commemorates Holocaust victims

In 2011, Zoni Weisz, a member of the Sinti minority, spoke for the first time Roma in front of the German Bundestag, 2017 for the first time two relatives of victims of the so-called euthanasia –  the planned murder  of people with serious illnesses or disabilities.

The focus of the commemoration this year on 27. On January 1, 2023, people who were persecuted under National Socialism because of their sexual orientation or gender identity will be there for the first time. Rozette Kats from the Netherlands is speaking to a Holocaust survivor who campaigns for victims of sexual minority persecution.