Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah — 27 January

…lest we forget

Observances around the World

Different countries observe Holocaust Memorial Day on different days.

Many countries have adopted 27 January, the date designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Memorial Day. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by Soviet troops on 27 January in 1945.

The UK has adopted this date, and has expanded the commemoration to include victims of all genocides including Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfu.

Israel and the USA  have adopted a date from the Jewish calendar, the 27th day in the month of Nisan (23 April 2017).

Click here for information dates observed in your country and elsewhere.

Holocaust Memorial Day  (27 January) is a national commemoration day in the United Kingdom dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in The Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.  The theme for 2017 is “How can life go on?”  For educational ideas to use, click here.

The Statement of Commitment for Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom is a simplified version of the Stockholm Declaration which includes a commitment to remember all victims of Nazi Persecution and victims of all genocides. This declaration might be read aloud at a commemoration event.

  1. We recognise that the Holocaust shook the foundations of modern civilisation. Its unprecedented character and horror will always hold universal meaning.
  2. We believe the Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory. We honour the survivors still with us, and reaffirm our shared goals of mutual understanding and justice.
  3. We must make sure that future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. We vow to remember the victims of Nazi persecution and of all genocide.
  4. We value the sacrifices of those who have risked their lives to protect or rescue victims, as a touchstone of the human capacity for good in the face of evil.
  5. We recognise that humanity is still scarred by the belief that race, religion, disability or sexuality make some people’s lives worth less than others’. Genocide, antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue. We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils.
  6. We pledge to strengthen our efforts to promote education and research about the Holocaust and other genocide. We will do our utmost to make sure that the lessons of such events are fully learnt.
  7. We will continue to encourage Holocaust remembrance by holding an annual Holocaust Memorial Day. We condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism. We value a free, tolerant, and democratic society.

Yom HaShoah begins at sundown on Sunday, 23 April 2017.

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה    is known colloquially  as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) and Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day commemorates both the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and the Jewish resistance in that period.  It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan (April/May)— a week after the end of the Passover holiday and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers).  It also marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (19 April).  The date was selected by Israel’s Parliament in 1951.

Since the early 1960’s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion at both sundown and 11:00 am.

Rituals associated with Yom Hashoah vary widely and are still being created for use at synagogues and in homes. Many Jews recite the memorial prayer and light yahrzeit (memorial) candlse in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.  Yom Hashoah programmes have often featured a talk by a Holocaust survivor, appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasise the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another — dramatising the unfathomable notion of six million deaths.  The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering — recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and insuring that such a tragedy never happens again.

Yom HaShoah, the national observance in Israel, begins on:

Sun, 23 April 2017 at sundown (28th of Nisan, 5777)
Wed, 11 April 2018 at sundown (27th of Nisan, 5778)
Wed, 01 May 2019 at sundown (27th of Nisan, 5779)
Mon, 20 April 2020 at sundown (27th of Nisan, 5780)
Wed, 07 April 2021 at sundown (26th of Nisan, 5781)
Wed, 27 April 2022 at sundown (27th of Nisan, 5782)
Mon, 17 April 2023 at sundown (27th of Nisan, 5783)
Sun, 05 May 2024 at sundown (28th of Nisan, 5784)
Wed, 23 April 2025 at sundown (26th of Nisan, 5785)

For more information click here to visit the website of the Jewish Virtual Library.

Our challenge today is to insist that time will not become the Nazis' friend, that time will not fade our sense of specificity, the uniqueness of the Holocaust, that time will not lead us to make the Holocaust into an abstraction. Our challenge today is to remember the Holocaust, for if we remember we will, as our soldiers did, look its evil in the face.... For memory is our duty to the past, and memory is our duty to the future.

USA President George H. W. Bush speaking about the annual April/May week-long observance in the United States

The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. Each year state and local governments, military bases, workplaces, schools, religious organizations, and civic centers host observances and remembrance activities for their communities. These events can occur during the Week of Remembrance (March/April), which runs from the Sunday before Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) through the following Sunday.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers numerous helpful resources on their website including suggestions for videos, photos, personal histories and more to use in Memorial services.  Click here.

 

Readings & Resources for a Holocaust Memorial Day service/event

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me –

Poetry written by victims of the Holocaust and by others reflecting on the horrors of the Holocaust of World War II and modern genocide can be included in a Holocaust Memorial Day service.  The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust UK provides numerous suggestions on their website; click here.

 Click here  to explore poems and reflections provided by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncot, Pennsylvania USA.

The poems are powerful, thoughtful and inspiring.

For example…

We Do Not Understand

By Rabbi Jill Hausman

We do not understand
We cannot grasp six million dead
And if their names were said
Three months we would be standing here.
We are diminished by the hugeness
The intensity of hatred: of fires fanned
And we do not understand.

All, all was swept away
The lives, the way of life,
The scholars, the pious
No sins could be that great, no faults so grave.
They could have, should have left, or could they?
Or was it planned?
And we do not understand.

 read more

El Maley Rakhamim for the Six Million (translation)

By Rabbi Amy Loewenthal
G-d, Full of Mercy

G-d, full of mercy, You who dwell in the heights,
Shelter them beneath the wings of Your presence
high among the holy and the pure, who shine
like the brilliant heavens.

read more

Remember, People of Israel, the Righteous Gentiles,

who have placed their own lives in danger

for the sake of our persecuted and tortured brothers and sisters

during the Shoah, 1939–1945,

and who were as shining stars in the overwhelming darkness of evil.

Those who spoke out at a time of silence,

Those who offered sanctuary and a lease on life in the eye of the murderous storm,

read more

A Prayer for Yom Hashoah / Holocaust Remembrance Day
By Rabbi David Katz
Ribbono shel Olam – Master of the Universe:

On this most solemn of occasions, we open our hearts, minds, and souls to you.

As we remember the six million, the eleven million, the indifference, and the evil;

As we honor the heroes, the martyrs, the survivors, and the victims;

We ask you to soothe our souls, to amplify our memories, to strengthen our resolve, and to hear our prayers.

read more

This meditation speaks ofancestors and future generations to come and was inspired by several biblical passages:

  • God numbers the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4)
  • God took Abraham outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them… so shall your offspring be. (Genesis 15:5)
  • Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these: the One who brings out the starry host one by one, and Who calls them each by name (Isaiah 40:26).

Sit quietly. Relax. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in waves of healing energy. Feel these waves flow through your entire body like an ocean of healing light. As you exhale, envision any negative energy—any pain, tension, stress, fatigue—being released from your body, carried away on the soft wind of your breath—carried away on the wings of angels.

To read the rest of Ariel’s meditation click here.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides a set of personal histories that offer a glimpse into the ways the Holocaust affected individuals. Each identification card has four sections: The first provides a biographical sketch of the person. The second describes the individual’s experiences from 1933 to 1938, while the third describes events during the war years. The final section describes the fate of the individual and explains the circumstances—to the extent that they are known—in which the individual either died or survived. In addition to revealing details of the history of the Holocaust, the personal accounts reinforce the reality that no two people experienced the events in exactly the same way.  Click here to access the histories on a pdf.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes several suggestions of songs written during the 1940’s and written directly following the end of World War II.  Click here to explore these resources.

Suggestions for videos, historical statements and more are available on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.  Click here.

The Statement of Commitment for Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom is a simplified version of the Stockholm Declaration which includes a commitment to remember all victims of Nazi Persecution and victims of all genocides. This declaration might be read aloud at a commemoration event.

  1. We recognise that the Holocaust shook the foundations of modern civilisation. Its unprecedented character and horror will always hold universal meaning.
  2. We believe the Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory. We honour the survivors still with us, and reaffirm our shared goals of mutual understanding and justice.
  3. We must make sure that future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. We vow to remember the victims of Nazi persecution and of all genocide.
  4. We value the sacrifices of those who have risked their lives to protect or rescue victims, as a touchstone of the human capacity for good in the face of evil.
  5. We recognise that humanity is still scarred by the belief that race, religion, disability or sexuality make some people’s lives worth less than others’. Genocide, antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue. We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils.
  6. We pledge to strengthen our efforts to promote education and research about the Holocaust and other genocide. We will do our utmost to make sure that the lessons of such events are fully learnt.
  7. We will continue to encourage Holocaust remembrance by holding an annual Holocaust Memorial Day. We condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism. We value a free, tolerant, and democratic society.

 

Featured image: Holocaust Memorial, San Francisco, California USA — photo by Ana Gobledale