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Why two Holocaust memorial days?

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JORDAN MOSHE

So, the question you may be asking is: Why do we have two such memorial days so close together?

Although they have shared elements between the two days, Yom Hashoah is concerned more with mourning and reflection amongst Jews, while International Remembrance Day has to do with education.

“Yom Hashoah is a day commemorated by the Jewish world to mourn and remember the loss of fellow Jews and is linked to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” says Alana Baranov, head of Adult Education and Social Justice Programmes at the Durban Holocaust Centre. “It is a national day of commemoration in Israel. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations for the international community to pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust and marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. Both are vitally important.

“Learning from the past, especially from incidents of hatred, genocide and crimes against humanity, allows us to build a more tolerant future in which human rights for all is respected. For this reason, all commemorations of the Holocaust are not only worthwhile but essential,” she says.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed on January 27 every year, with this year’s events being on Sunday the 28th because it falls on Shabbat.

Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, this day was created in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It honours the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.

Its purpose is twofold: to serve as a date for the official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime, and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world.

“The day is an opportunity not only to remember the lives so tragically lost, but also to educate those who want to know more about the Holocaust and share information that people may not know about,” says Tali Nates, executive director of the Holocaust and Genocide Centre in Forest Town, Johannesburg.

Since 2010, the UN has designated specific themes for the annual commemorations that focus on topics such as collective experiences and universal human rights. In addition to the message from the Israeli embassy, the commemoration ceremony also includes an address by a speaker in line with the year’s theme. According to Nates, January 27 enables Jews to share the experience with others who may not be well informed on the subject, and to learn something new themselves.

“With the day’s focus beingon learning, the activities we hold often include workshops for students, including those in Soweto and other townships,” says Nates. “We have run a session on music during the Holocaust, a subject few people know anything about. Everyone has a chance to learn something new about the Holocaust on this day.”

Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, known colloquially in Israel and abroad as Yom Hashoah, is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the Jews who perished in the Holocaust and for the Jewish resistance in that period. Frequently held in cemeteries, this funereal ceremony involves activities such as the lighting of torches, the recitation of tefillot and the delivery of testimony by survivors.

  • One of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies will be held at 17h00 at the Holocaust and Genocide Centre. The ceremony includes addresses by the ambassadors of Israel and Germany, a message from the UN, survivors’ candle lighting and an address by Dr Alioune Deme on the Holocaust and Africa.

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