May we never forget the horrific events of World War II. While we continue to mourn those who died in combat, the United Nations has set aside a day to mark the commemoration of those who died in the holocaust – non-combat victims killed for their political, social or religious identity. This is why we have International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The day is not just about commemorating the dead so that it never happens again, it is about challenging those who actively seek to deny that the events even occurred.
The Holocaust’s Other Victims
While Jews certainly made up the overwhelming majority of victims of the Nazi regime, over five and a half million), they were not the only targets – or for that matter, the first. Those sent to the concentration camps and gas chambers included a further six million people from the following demographics:
- Marxists, communists and other left-wing activists numbered around 250,000. This increased after Hitler turned against Russia
- Homosexuals numbered 15,000 in the concentration camps, but a great many more were incarcerated in asylums
- People with disabilities (including the mentally ill) were the first people sent to the gas chambers. Around 375,000 were killed and another 275,000 were sterilised
- Of the Roma, estimates on numbers vary and are claimed as anything between 220,000 and 1.5 million
- Slavs – including Poles and Ukrainians also made up a large proportion of the dead. Numbers have never satisfactorily been substantiated, but between three and five million is the typical range. Some may have been classed within other groups
- Jehovah’s Witnesses were punished for their refusal to fight in the military (a core tenet of their faith).Victims numbered anything between 250,000 and 500,000
- Ecclesiastical and monastic Catholics (monks, priests and bishops) particularly those who were part of the Catholic Resistance were sent to the gas chambers too. Nearly 3,000 clergy men and women were imprisoned, mostly in Dachau
- Some protestants, Lutherans and others who refused to join the Reich Church
- Bahai (the World Faith) for pacifist and internationalist views
- Freemasons as Hitler believed they were part of “The Jewish Conspiracy”
- People who spoke Esperanto purely because the language’s inventor was Jewish
The History of International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
The idea was first touted in 2005 as part of plans for Holocaust Remembrance Week the following year. The idea was to promote tolerance and understanding and to engage in educational activities for children and for adults, the hold memorials and exhibitions all over the world to help prevent further genocide. A resolution quickly passed that condemned religious intolerance and holocaust denial. It became an official event, marked every year at the UN. Now, 11 years later, the UN marks each year on a different theme. Last years was all about basic human dignity.
Although the United Nations marks the annual event, it is only considered a national day in the United Kingdom and in Italy. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in New York holds a special commemorative service on the day too, as does Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (a museum and exhibition complex).
This Year’s Theme
Each year presents a different theme. This year’s event is “Educating for a Better Future”. The UN wishes to continue to educate newer generations on the events and acts of the holocaust. Education about the events and the context of the time provides universal experiences about tolerance and intolerance, oppression and hatred, respect for human rights and common humanity. The United Nations feels that The Holocaust is a “defining moment in history”, one of the darkest times that should never be forgotten.