Honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day

BU Experts
4 min readJan 19, 2023

“Home and Belonging” is the theme for this year’s memorial day.

By Katherine Gianni and Giana Carrozza

Since its conception in the early 2000's, International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been a time for people around the world to reflect on the history of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and learn how to support those affected. According the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose in most major cities across the United States in 2022 compared to previous years. Subsequent reporting from Axios found that these crimes often spike during Jewish holidays and following antisemitic comments made publicly from celebrities, politicians, or other public figures.

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches on January 27, it is critical for people to come together to combat the violence and anti-Semitic rhetoric faced by so many members of the Jewish community. To learn more about this year’s observance and how to participate, we turned to Dr. Nancy Harrowitz. Dr. Harrowitz is the director of Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, a BU College of Arts & Sciences professor of Jewish and Italian studies, and the coordinator of the University’s new interdisciplinary major in Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights. Dr. Harrowitz has published many books and articles in her fields of study including Primo Levi and the Identity of a Survivor (2016).

Image by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash.

What is International Holocaust Remembrance Day? Why is the day observed on January 27th?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations in 2005. The day was chosen because January 27, 1945 was the day the Russians arrived at Auschwitz after the Nazis had fled, opening up the camp. They took care of the surviving prisoners who had been left behind at the killing center of Auschwitz, too ill to go on the forced evacuation march. The purpose of the day is to commemorate the Nazis’ victims, and to call attention to the need for Holocaust education.

What are the different types of commemoration activities/events associated with Holocaust Remembrance Day? How can people get involved?

There are different ways to commemorate: some communities offer films about the Holocaust, or talks by experts or survivors in order to educate and get people involved in memory work.

The theme of this year’s observance is “Home and Belonging.” How do you interpret this theme?

This year’s theme, Home and Belonging, makes me think of the Jews who were not allowed to feel at home in their native countries even before the Holocaust, due to antisemitism and extreme hostility. It also brings to mind the fragmented families, those who managed to survive, dispersed after the genocide, their original homes destroyed or taken away.

Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash.

According to an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report released early 2022, “antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to ADL.” How could the rise in antisemitic hate crimes impact this year’s events and why is it important to address?

The sharp increase in worldwide antisemitism makes it even more imperative to remember the Holocaust and its lessons. Prejudice towards different groups affects the humanity of us all and needs to be addressed. This is why the recent and brilliant PBS documentary, The US and Holocaust, references the history of prejudice and bigotry in the US, ending with our recent battles with while supremacy, in order to show the Holocaust in an ongoing context.

Image by Eelco Böhtlingk on Unsplash.

How can folks work towards acknowledging the Holocaust, its victims, and antisemitism at large beyond January 27th?

It is imperative for us to understand our own history, difficult as it might be, in the light of current events, and to act on that knowledge by becoming conscientious citizens. This provides us with a way of moving forward in our own times to fight prejudice and to speak out against injustice.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Have a question for Dr. Nancy Harrowitz? Email her at nharrow@bu.edu. For research news and updates from BU’s College of Arts and Sciences follow @BU_CAS. Follow BU’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies @BUjewishstudies.

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