International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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International Holocaust Remembrance DayOn Saturday, January 27, 2018, we will commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz1 – a former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp where 11 million of mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and other nationalities were murdered.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Twenty seventh January has been designated as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations in 2005 as a day to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. Guided tours, lectures and programs focusing on issues of fundamental human rights will take place all around the globe. A painting by a former Sonderkommando prisoner, David Olère, will stand as a visual symbol of the anniversary that will take place in the Memorial and Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau under the honorary patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda2 (view the paintings and other work from David Olère). The indescribable fear and terror in the eyes of the prisoner in David Olère’s painting and the recollection of a painful past within –  what Primo Levi described as “geometrical insanity” of Auschwitz premises – will, once again, become painful reminders of human failure to curb racial, ethnic, religious and gender prejudices.

Tragically, lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt. It is alarming how many European Jews consider leaving their countries as a result of the increase of violent anti-Semitism in the past few years. In 2015, 10,000 of Western European Jews emigrated to Israel – the largest number of Jewish emigrants that Europe has seen since 19483. Refugee crisis in Europe, ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, are major culprits behind the increased incidents of global anti-Semitism4.

A new shape of anti-Semitism

In Europe, anti-Semitism has taken a new shape as it trifurcated into anti-Semitism of far-right, anti-Semitism of far-left and anti-Semitism of extremist Muslim groups. Refugee crisis gave way to anti-Muslim sentiments thus empowering the ethno-nationalism and extreme right, which, in an effort to legitimize its power, fuelled traditional anti-Semitism, anti-Roma sentiments and homophobia.

Distance learning has no boundaries and as such has an immense potential to teach respect, empathy and altruism as core values of religious, ethnic and racial tolerance through community-based online projects.

Sing Arbeit macht frei (Work liberates) in Auschwitz II Birkenau

The wave of anti-Semitism also swept across the countries with virtually no Jewish communities: Poland (with its 7,000 Jews out of pre-war 3.5 million) or Slovakia (3,000 Jews out of pre-war 89,000 Jews). To curb anti-Semitism, the European Parliament passed a resolution endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism in May 2016. The raison d’etre of the working definition was to identify anti-Semitic incidents, collect data, enforce the legislation and take action5.

Just like anti-Semitism helps to empower extremism in any form, any form of extremism will inevitably empower anti-Semitism. What we need to learn is how to prevent the preventable before the events escalate out of control. Distance learning has no boundaries and as such has an immense potential to teach respect, empathy and altruism as core values of religious, ethnic and racial tolerance through community-based online projects. To counter ignorance, volunteerism and activism can be facilitated via online project-based learning targeting the conflicts worldwide. As educators, it is paramount to explore our possibilities to help students build skills to prevent and resolve conflicts and take action against the ideologies of hatred. Athabasca’s University mission runs along these lines as it “serves a wide range of communities through activities such as volunteerism, community-based research, involvement in local community organizations and participation in virtual learning communities.”6

This year, the January 27 commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau will see much older and smaller groups of Holocaust survivors. The voice of this generation is slowly fading away. Let us be their voice.

Dr. Nina Paulovicova’s postdoctoral fellowship was in European Holocaust Research at the Jewish Museum in Prague. Her research is focused on authoritarian regimes, occupation, rescue, resistance, religion, gender, collective memory and trauma in the Holocaust. Nina joined Athabasca University in October, 2017, as the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science’s newest Assistant Professor, History. She is developing a course for AU specifically on the Holocaust.


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