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UNESCO marks International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, leading a number of events that focused on UNESCO’s commitment to remembrance and education:

“The future cannot be built on a forgotten past,” the Director-General said during her annual visit to the Paris Shoah Memorial in the morning. “The history of the Jewish genocide is the history of the Jewish people and it is also the history of humanity as a whole.”

Ms Bokova expressed UNESCO’s “unswerving commitment to educating young generations and preventing, through Holocaust education, future genocides and mass violence.”

“UNESCO’s work for Holocaust remembrance and education is not backward looking—it serves in the fight today against racism, anti-Semitism and denial,” Ms Bokova said, pledging “never to relent in the fight against anti-Semitism and against denial; this is not negotiable".

Throughout the day, Ms Bokova was accompanied by Holocaust survivor Samuel Pisar, UNESCO Honorary Ambassador, Special Envoy for Holocaust Education. During the evening ceremony at UNESCO for the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust marked every year on 27 January. He spoke of those who entered the Nazi death chambers: “After the steel doors were shut, and the poison gas was released, they had only three minutes to live. Yet they found enough strength to dig their finger nails into the walls and scratch in the words: ‘Never forget!’ Those cries, those words, have imposed on us all sacred obligations to remember their cruel fate and be ever vigilant about ours.”

Another Holocaust survivor who took part in the ceremony was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Meir Lau, President of the Yad Vashem World Centre for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration.

Eric de Rotschild, President of the Paris-based Shoah Memorial, also took part in the ceremony at UNESCO and warned against the rise in contemporary ethnic hatred, including new forms of anti-Semitism.

János Lázár, Minister of State at the Office of Hungary’s Prime Minister, insisted on the importance of studying the history of the Holocaust during his address at the evening ceremony and spoke of Hungary’s World War II history saying: “We also committed crimes against ourselves, with passivity and unfortunately with actions as well. On one hand, some, who were the leaders of the Hungarian state then, were personally and severely accountable for deporting Hungarian Jews and also for condemning them to death. On the other hand the Hungarian State was not able to protect its own citizens, and had not made all the efforts it could have made for that matter.”

The ceremony which closed the day of remembrance, held with the participation and support of the Ambassadors of Israel, France and Germany to UNESCO.

Today UNESCO also launched a new publication, Holocaust Education in a Global Context, published in collaboration with the Topography of Terror Foundation (Germany).

The book examines the opportunities that arise from educating about the Holocaust in various cultural contexts and educational settings. It features case studies from different parts of the world connecting Holocaust education to Argentina’s 20th century human rights violations; genocides in Rwanda; post-apartheid South Africa; and Jewish-Arab dialogue.

Also during the Day of Commemoration, 300 academics and representatives of specialized organization, including Steven Katz, adviser of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, attended an international seminar, “the Impact of Holocaust Education: How to Assess Policies and Practices?” The event was organized by UNESCO and the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (Germany). It featured analyses of the evolution of teaching about the Holocaust in different parts of the world.

The Day also served as an opportunity to take stock of a wide range of projects concerning Holocaust education launched by UNESCO in recent years, including seminars, publications, and global outreach projects.

Several exhibitions opened at UNESCO on the Day and will remain in place until 13 February: “Journeys through the Holocaust,” video testimonies of Jewish refugees, created by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation in cooperation with UNESCO; “In the Footsteps of the Lost”, photographs by Matt Mendelsohn, presented by the Shoah Memorial; “The World Knew: Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity,” organized by Poland’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO; and “Shoah Survivors: Courage, Determination, Life,” paintings by Alain Husson-Dumoutier, UNESCO Artist for Peace.

The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust was organized in partnership with the Paris-based Mémorial de la Shoah museum and documentation centre, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, the USC Shoah Foundation and Hungary.