Lara Kajs | 27 January 2022 |
January 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the International Day of Commemoration and Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. It also marks the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp. And, as it would turn out, it happens to be my birthday; a realization or coincidence that has not been lost on me.
When I made the decision to join the ranks of humanitarian professionals around the world and to devote my life to helping the victims and vulnerable populations of genocide, conflict and violence, displacement, torture, trafficking, and other atrocity crimes, I was confident that my empathy and compassion would be enough to stand with those who suffer.
I learned, right out of the gate, that humanitarian work is hard. It is painful and unsettling and sometimes scary as hell – BUT, it is also the most rewarding work I have ever been involved with. Serving humanity, helping those in need, desiring to understand the issues that have impacted the lives of hundreds of millions, and actively participating in the resolution process, is immensely rewarding. Consider this: the overwhelming amount of indescribable anguish happening in the world today, is occurring mostly at the hands of fellow humans.
During the last decade, I have worked on a couple of missions that have “stuck” with me. The consequences of conflict, hatred, violence, and oppression that I witnessed firsthand is heartbreaking. Thus, a reoccurring theme is the importance of education regarding the cause and effects of genocide, conflict, and violence, and the need to keep the facts front and center and to discourage views that are based on disinformation.
Facts are important. Words matter. If we deny the truth, if we allow “alternate facts” to replace the hard, cold truth – we are left with false excuses that allow avoidance of responsibility to protect and the withholding of understanding and compassion. In short, we deny healing, reconciliation, and recovery to take place when we fail to protect the facts.
Holocaust Remembrance Day gives us cause to pause and reflect on the tremendous loss of life, but to also consider the “how” and “why” millions of European Jews were murdered. And, not only European Jews, but also non-Jewish persons including gay, lesbian, and transgender persons; persons with physical and mental disabilities; Roma, Poles, and other Slavic people; and religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witness. Each of these groups was labeled as inferior, combatted with hateful discourse, and singled out for experimentation and extermination. While we know these things to be true, there are groups all around the world that deny these events occurred.
Holocaust denial is a narrative that has existed since the genocide itself. While the mass killing of Jews, at the hands of the Nazis was carried out, citizens of those countries claimed that six million people had moved away on their own accord and that there were no death camps. Of course, we know that is not the case and the Holocaust is a fact.
The reality is that the world has witnessed an increase in false narratives, antisemitism, and hate speech in recent years. These increases have been used to marginalize ideologies and to promote intolerance and fear against people who do not share those beliefs with the purpose to isolate and cause harm.
As genocide and atrocity crimes continue to be committed across several regions in the world, we have witnessed a global rise in antisemitic views, hatred, and prejudice. As this continues, it is critical that Holocaust remembrance and education include providing understanding regarding the causes, consequences, and connotations of hate crimes to strengthen the resolve of young people against beliefs that promote hatred, racism, intolerance, and violence. It is imperative that historical knowledge is preserved to counter the attempts of disinformation and denial.
The Holocaust profoundly affected countries in which the crimes were perpetrated, however, the wider implications and consequences were far-reaching. We, as a collective society, owe it to the limited number of Holocaust survivors still alive today (and all those who perished), but also to the millions of family members of the survivors, and for the generations to come, to protect the facts and preserve the history of Holocaust remembrance.
Photo Credit: Holocaust Memorial Berlin by d.i. is Licensed by CC 2.0 license
Lara Kajs | 27 January 2022 |