Holocaust Days of Remembrance: Remembering a part of history

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Casey Brockway
  • 2015 Holocaust Days of Remembrance Committee
The Holocaust Days of Remembrance observance is scheduled April 12 through 19. The theme this year is "Learning from the Holocaust: Choosing to Act."

Each year the community commemorates the Holocaust during a Week of Remembrance, which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, through the following Sunday. This year's Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 16. Israel's parliament established Yom Hashoah on the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar so the date changes each year in the United States.

Why do we remember the Holocaust? According to Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, it is "an opportunity for us to remember the suffering that was and the efforts that were made to put an end to such suffering, and it's a call to conscience today in our world to make sure that we aren't the silent ones standing by, contributing to the suffering of others."

As members of the Department of Defense "looking back allows us to understand how important it is for us to serve in a country where we have the strength and the might and the will to defend those that are defenseless," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Terrance Sanders while serving as the Department of Army Headquarters Equal Opportunity policy chief.

Recently Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, discussed the lessons that can be taken from the Holocaust to prevent this kind of atrocity happening again. 

Ra'ad Al Hussein has spent years trying to understand how so many people could kill so easily and to their dying days have so little, if any, remorse.

"Perhaps some ordinary people did kill because at times the fear of pain or punishment overwhelmed reality," he said. "But mostly I suspect, because, in the unique circumstances of that moment, they believed it was right--and this is the second, more disturbing variation of how we rationalize. They believed the killing, even of children, was entirely justified, even if they also knew it was in some sense awful."

He added that once rationalized, the killing became mechanical and the victims, the people, become non-people, in the eyes of the killers and torturers.

Following the Holocaust, treaties were drawn up, signed and accepted by countries all over the world to put into international law the protection of human rights. However, far too frequently, they are ignored in practice. 

According to Ra'ad Al Hussein, military action and government intervention is not working; more needs to be done. 

"Our task becomes the need to strengthen our ethics, our clarity and openness of thought, and our moral courage," he said. "To do this I can only suggest that we must turn to a new and deeper form of education."

Eight of the 15 people who planned the Holocaust held doctoral degrees. Ra'ad Al Hussein proposes that education needs to go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to include skills and values that can equip people to act with responsibility and care. 

His vision is: "Before every child on this planet turns nine, I believe he or she should acquire a foundational understanding of human rights. The underlying values of the curriculum would be virtually identical in every school, deriving from the universal--and universally accepted--Declaration of Human Rights."

The committee asks that personnel take time over the next week to remember the more than six million Holocaust victims.