What (And When) is International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Updated

The Holocaust in German-occupied Europe claimed the lives of over six million Jews and 11 million other victims. 

Also known as the Shoa in Hebrew, or “the catastrophe,” the Holocaust began when the Nazi party rose to power in Germany in 1933. By 1945, the German government and its allies had killed almost two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe. 

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Today, nations and citizens around the world mourn the tragedy and crimes of the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

What is International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity every year to look back on the events of the Jewish genocide in Germany. 

It’s a day set apart where we can examine the events that made the Holocaust possible. We can pay tribute to the lives lost and honor those who helped liberate the concentration camps in Germany. 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrates the date that Allied forces discovered and liberated the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, in January of 1945. 

How did it start?

The United Nations General Assembly started International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD) with the adoption of Resolution 60-7 on November 1, 2005. They created the date of remembrance to honor all of the victims of Nazism. 

The resolution set the date for IHRD as January 27, marking the date when Allied forces liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. 

The same resolution, adopted by the UN, supports educational programs to inform the public about the Holocaust and prevent future genocides. 

At the same time, the resolution rejects any form of Holocaust denial. It encourages UN member states to actively preserve important Holocaust landmarks and historic items. 

Where is it commemorated?

The first ceremony commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day took place on January 27, 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The UN Headquarters continues to hold official ceremonies on January 27 every year. 

Additionally, UN offices around the world hold their own commemoration ceremonies, and other state offices conduct ceremonies, as well. 

You can also find ceremonies and events at the various Holocaust sites across Europe. For example, you might see candles lining the railway tracks leading to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. 

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What’s the Date of Holocaust Remembrance Day?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is on January 27 every year. That’s because January 27, 1945, is the date when Allied forces liberated the largest Nazi death camp, known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. 

You can participate in ceremonies in the week surrounding January 27 each year, with many museums and sites setting aside several days for remembrance. 

What Happens During Holocaust Remembrance Day Around the World?

The first Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony took place in 2006, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Nearly 2,200 people attended the ceremony in person, and it was broadcast live on TV. 

Since that historic date, the New York City Headquarters and sites around the world have held official ceremonies on and around January 27 every year. And smaller organizations, as well as individuals and families, have their own ways of remembering the victims of the Nazi regime, too. 

Annual themes

In 2010, the UN started a tradition of setting “themes” or motifs for International Holocaust Remembrance Day every year. Here are the themes that they’ve observed so far: 

2010: “The Legacy of Survival”

In 2010, the UN chose a theme commemorating those men, women, and children who suffered the horrors of Nazi power and survived. The theme focused on the lessons those survivors can pass on, or their “legacy.” 

2011: “Women of the Holocaust”

The theme in 2011 specially commemorated the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts who lost their lives or saw their lives changed forever during the Holocaust. 

2012: “Children of the Holocaust”

In 2012, the UN’s theme focused on the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, as well as the thousands of Roma and Sinti children, disabled children, and others. 

2013: “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care”

The 2013 program honored the people who risked their own lives to save tens of thousands of Holocaust victims from certain death under the Nazi regime. Events focused on the courage and moral values behind those daring acts of rescue.

2014: “Journeys through the Holocaust”

This year’s theme looked at various unique journeys that individuals and families took during the dark period of the Holocaust. 

2015: “Liberty, Life and the Legacy of the Holocaust Survivors”

The year 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, as well as the founding of the United Nations. Those two anniversaries marked how closely the UN is tied to the Holocaust, which was the theme of 2015’s ceremonies. 

2016: “The Holocaust and Human Dignity”

In 2016, the United Nations chose a theme linking Holocaust remembrance with the founding principles of the UN, including dignity and the inherent worth of every human being. 

2017: “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future”

The theme for 2017 emphasized the importance of Holocaust education as a basis for building respect for human rights.  

2018: “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility”

In 2018, the United Nations’ theme for International Holocaust Remembrance Day highlighted the universal nature of the Holocaust. It focused on encouraging education and the responsibility to halt and prevent present and future tragedies. 

2019: “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights”

The theme for 2019 encouraged youth to learn from the Holocaust and to act against discrimination in their communities. 

2020: “75 years after Auschwitz: Holocaust Education and Remembrance for Global Justice”

The year 2020 was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the end of World War II, the founding of the UN, and the end of the Holocaust. For this important occasion, the United Nations again focused on increasing education and the continued importance of taking action against antisemitism. 

Ceremonies and concerts

The main event at the United Nations Headquarters is the memorial ceremony and concert. The ceremony usually includes remarks from leaders of the United Nations and representatives of Germany, Israel, Russia, and other nations. 

Following the central ceremony, there usually follows a concert or recital. For example, the 2020 Remembrance Day event included a piano performance by Turkish pianist, Renan Koen. Koen is also known for her efforts in publishing the stories and works of composers who continued to work during their imprisonment in concentration camps. 

Exhibits and displays

At the UN Headquarters and museums around the world, you can observe special exhibits and displays on Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the UN Headquarters, new exhibits open up throughout the week of January 27th. 

In 2020, for example, the UN hosted an exhibit called “Seeing Auschwitz.” Created in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the exhibit featured a series of photos. The display aimed to challenge viewers’ understanding of the circumstances behind the photos. 

Discussions and statements

The United Nations Headquarters and other cultural heritage museums also hold discussions and present statements on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2020, the UN held a discussion called, “Safe Haven: Jewish Refugees in the Philippines.” Guest speakers discussed the Philippines' “Open Door Policy” which saved many lives in 1938. 

The UN also held a briefing titled “Hate speech, Holocaust denial and distortion: why challenging it matters.” With this briefing, directors of multiple museums and cultural centers spoke about and discussed the growing threat of Holocaust denial. 

Candle lightings

You can find candle-lighting ceremonies around the world during the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in memory of the lives lost. As mentioned, the railroad tracks leading to the Auschwitz-Birkenau site are often lined with lit candles as a vigil. 

And candle-lighting is something you don’t have to visit Europe--or even a museum closer near you--to take part in. If you want to honor the lives lost and changed during the Holocaust, you can light your own candles and take a moment of silence at home. 

Fighting Holocaust denial

One of the most important parts of recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day every year is education.

As the events of the Holocaust grow further and further away, more and more people take up the belief that the tragedy never occurred. But the United Nations and International Holocaust Remembrance Day is our opportunity to remember what happened and to learn from the past. 

More Holocaust Remembrance Dates 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is on January 27 every year. But that isn’t the only date set aside for remembering the Holocaust. Many countries have established their own remembrance days connected to the events of the Holocaust. For example, Argentine created the National Day for Cultural Diversity, and chose the date of April 19 as the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (a key Holocaust event). 

In Hungary, April 16 is National Holocaust Remembrance Day. That date commemorates the establishment of the ghetto in Munkacs. 

And in 1979, the United States established Days of Remembrance, which usually take place between April and early May. These days are meant to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime, and they correspond with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Ha-Shoah. 

Read about more days of remembrance in our guide on Transgender Day of Remembrance and NASA's Day of Remembrance.


Sources

  1. “International Holocaust Remembrance Day.” Holocaust Encyclopedia (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/international-holocaust-remembrance-day
  2. “The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme.” United Nations. www.un.org/en/holocaustremembrance/2020/calendar2020.shtml
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