'Lest You Forget the Things Your Eyes Saw' – International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The deep melodic sound of the cello reverberated throughout the six walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Hall of Remembrance playing Zog Nit Keyn Mol (the“Partisan Song”), the anthem traditionally played in Holocaust memorial services around the world. 

On the walls, raised letters spelled the names of Nazi camps--Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen--juxtaposed with words from the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah: “Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw…”  The eternal flame flickered as the names of all of those lost were read out loud. Remembered. Honored. Individualized. A Holocaust survivor said kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer for the dead and simultaneously a hymn of praise to God.

This was not a typical morning in the museum’s memorial hall. On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau) on January 27, we reflected on the tragedy of the Holocaust and honored the six million Jews and millions of Poles, Roma, LGBT persons, Jehovah’s witnesses, persons with disabilities, and others who were murdered by the Nazis. 

But even in the shadow of death, there are brief moments of blessing. We heard from a Holocaust survivor who spoke movingly about her rescue in Albania by a Muslim family, and who despite the trauma she carries with her, seeks to educate others about her experience. It is stories like hers that help advance respect for human rights, and that redouble our resolve to combat anti-Semitism, hatred, and radical ideologies of any kind.

During the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony at the Israeli Embassy on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Obama firmly stated, “we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise… An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths.” He further noted, “It is an attack on that Golden Rule at the heart of so many faiths--that we ought to do unto others as we would have done to us. For Americans, in particular, we should understand that it’s an attack on our diversity, on the very idea that people of different backgrounds can live together and thrive together… When any Jew anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond as Roddie Edmonds did -- 'We are all Jews'.”

It is our solemn duty to confront discrimination on the basis of race or religion, unite against anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and sectarian hate, insist on the rule of law in relations between states and people, and reaffirm our commitment to protecting the fundamental rights and dignity of every human being. 

The central lesson of the Holocaust is a call to action. As President Obama reminded us, we are required to speak out, to stand firm, and not stand idly by and allow evil to flourish. May we not stand idly by. May we not forget the things our eyes saw.

About the Authors: Nicholas Dean serves as the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and Ira Forman serves as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, both at the U.S. Department of State. 

For more information:

A view of the Hall of Remembrance in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Posted by Ira Forman and Nicholas Dean
January 28, 2016


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