Today is the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. On this Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember all of those who were killed in genocides across the world. The most infamous of these genocides is the Holocaust, where six million Jews were killed in death camps, alongside other marginalized groups such as the Roma, disabled people, homosexuals, and political enemies. There have been a number of other genocides across the world since 1945, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and the Uyghur genocide in China, where people have been targeted and killed based on their ethnicity or religion.
Why Remember The Holocaust
Given the subsequent genocides, it would be fitting to ask what we can learn from the Holocaust and how it is possible that these later genocides took place. A critical lesson is that the path to the holocaust was neither simple nor short. The Holocaust resulted from many incremental changes to policies and anti-semitic attitudes gradually and systematically promoted over time. For example, once Adolf Hitler came to power, Jewish people were blamed for the poor economic conditions post-WWI. He oversaw anti-Jewish decrees barring them from civil service, university, and state positions. Public burning of books written by Jews and others not approved by the state became common. These changes may have seemed insignificant, especially when they did not directly affect most of the population. However, they eventually led to the stripping of Jewish people's civil rights and put a civilized nation on a path to organized mass murder.
The Holocaust Wouldn't Happen Today, Or Could It?
We live in a time when it is very easy to express our views online and have them amplified. For many of us, this is a positive experience and an ability we should celebrate. In a well-organized society, all healthy viewpoints should be aired and discussed freely. Unfortunately, there is a growing tide of misinformation, especially around Holocaust denialism, aimed at sowing division and hate. This misinformation is not just misleading; it is also harmful. It separates people into groups based on their ethnicities and acts as a rallying point for far-right hate groups.
How should we observe Holocaust Memorial Day?
It is a solemn day for reflection, but it is also a day to remind ourselves to remain vigilant to the threats we see around us. There have been many genocides since the Holocaust based on religion, ethnicity, or other marginalized groupings, including ongoing genocides in Darfur (since 2003) and China (since 2014). Sadly, the intolerance and fear that leads to atrocity and human rights violations have not gone away. To promote social justice and human rights and prevent genocide, we must improve awareness of the subtle and overt signs of extremism and oppose them.
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