Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27

Posted by: Neil Gipson, Political Section

holocaust-day260_tcm4-675126International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn occasion in both the United States and in Ukraine.  In the U.S., commemoration events take place in communities across the country, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is hosting a candle-lighting ceremony and special public program.  The event honors the victims of the Nazi era and supports the effort to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.

In the United States, popular memory about the Holocaust often focuses on the horrors of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi death camps across Poland.  But American are also learning about the different kind of tragedy that unfolded in Ukraine.  With support from the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the scholar and priest Fr. Patrick Desbois wrote a book called “The Holocaust by Bullets” that tells the poignant story of how he spent ten years locating 800 mass gravesites and other execution sites of Jews exterminated by Nazis in Ukraine.  The book and its related educational projects have helped many Americans understand for the first time the scope of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Ukraine, and also the very different way that violence was perpetrated.

Ukraine is also marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at religious services, scholarly convocations and public gatherings.  Father Desbois’ work has helped to inform those events and to preserve the memory of Ukraine’s former Jewish community both in the United States and in Ukraine.  His work has been shared in Ukraine at events in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk , Kharkiv and through educational programs across the country.

Together, Americans and Ukrainians are commemorating what President Obama described as “the one and only Holocaust — six million innocent people — men, women, children, babies — sent to their deaths just for being different, just for being Jewish.”  Together, we are remembering a great tragedy, but with an eye toward the future, so that we can teach our children the lessons of the past and work toward a future that reasserts our commitment to human rights.

NOTE: Another highly regarded book that has raised awareness in the United States and abroad about the Nazi (and Soviet) mass killing campaigns in the territories of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics and western Russia is Bloodlands by Yale University History Professor Timothy Snyder who spoke in Kyiv October 21, 2011, at an Ambassador’s Forum event hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine.

(Ukrainian link for Snyder event: http://ukrainian.ukraine.usembassy.gov/uk/ambforum-snyder.html)

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