Editor’s note: The following is a commemoration letter written by Anat Balint, coordinator of SJSU’s Jewish Studies Program.
On this day, January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust—six million Jews, among them 1.5 million children, who were murdered by the Nazis and those who cooperated with them. Millions of others were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis and those who cooperated with them in Europe, 1939-1945.
The Holocaust was a unique event in the history of mankind: For the first time people had organized for the systematic extermination of other people based on racist beliefs that were nurtured by hatred, incitement and false information. The systematic murder of the Jews during WWII has brought the Jewish people on the verge of extinction.
The Holocaust happened because of the leadership and decision making of a few, the active cooperation of many and the silence and indifference of the majority of people in the countries that were under Nazi occupation.
On this day we stand in memory of those millions who were murdered, we stand by those who survived and are still with us and listen to their stories, we stand by the truth and the facts of history, and think of what can be done so that “never again”—not only for the Jews, but for any group of people—would not be just a wish.
It is easy to think of how one would never take part in perpetration and how one would stand against its own victimization, but like the majority of non-Jews during WWII, most of us are none.
This is the day to remember the words of the prominent Israeli Holocaust scholar, Yehuda Bauer:
“Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, 76 years ago. Approximately 1.35 million people were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
You can follow virtual events to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year here.
Please find here a poem by Abba Kovner: We Shall Remember (Yizkor). Kovner was a poet and one of the leaders of the Jewish underground in Vilna Ghetto. Kovner was the first to claim, in 1942, that Hitler has an organized plan to exterminate the Jews in Europe.
-The Jewish Faculty and Staff Association and the Jewish Studies Program