The Need to Educate, Speak and Ensure that Holocaust Remembrance is Always Done

View of ruined wooden huts – Auschwitz II-Birkenau site; courtesy Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

By Ilyse Muser Shainbrown

The day of January 27, 2020 is quickly approaching and it’s significance is grand as it marks the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the most notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz. 

This day will be marked around that world at ceremonies in Israel, New York, Germany and of course at Auschwitz itself in Poland. 

I myself have two major programs running at the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest to mark the anniversary, as I know many other Holocaust museums, resource centers, synagogues, schools and so many others do. And I am confident, just as for myself, the planning of these events are keeping those involved extremely busy as the date approaches. 

Yet this day should mark so much more than the anniversary of the date. In my race to get to January 27th and stay on target and organized, I have had little time to really reflect on what the day actually commemorates. 

Yes, it is International Holocaust Remembrance Day; and yes it is the day that Auschwitz was liberated from the Nazis. But remembering and reflecting on such a momentous event is really not only about the past but very much about the present and the future.

Seventy-five years is a long time – many would say that it is a lifetime. And starting from January 27th, we will begin to recall so many “75th Anniversaries” as we approach May 5, 2020 and mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe and the final end to the Holocaust. 

As we plunge into these momentous next few months, I would like to begin to think of these commemorations as new beginnings. This is it. This is the time for us to truly recognize that it’s a new generation that has to educate, speak and ensure that Holocaust Remembrance is always done. 

While studying the events of the genocide in the Belgian Congo years ago, I read an interesting article about remembrance. The article pointed to the victims/survivors of the Belgian Congo and actually placed blame on them for the world not remembering the Belgian Congo Genocide. The author claimed that without the survivors or anyone else preserving the testimony of what happened in the Belgian Congo, then no one remembered it. 

At the time, I thought the article was ridiculous. Why is it the fault of the victims if the world did not remember? In my mind, it was clearly the fault of the world. The world didn’t remember and commemorate the Belgian Congo Genocide because it was so long ago, the documentation was in books and papers and not in films, and frankly the world just didn’t seem to care. 

But now, as we approach this 75-year anniversary, I see things in another light. The survivors of the Holocaust along with writers, filmmakers and educators have done everything within their power to ensure that the Holocaust is the most documented genocide in history. The question is though, will it be remembered?

In another 100 years when no one is left alive that remembers meeting a survivor, when the technology might be far greater than even the incredible innovation of holograms of Holocaust Survivors, when the world has added another 100 years of history to be reflected on, taught about and commemorated, will the world mark the 175th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in the same way that it’s marking it now on January 27, 2020? 

I like to hope so and I like to hope that it’s because of all the work the incredible survivors, their children and their children’s children have done to make sure the Holocaust is never forgotten. But I also am clear and strong that it will only happen if we continue to make it a priority.

Ilyse Muser Shainbrown was a former Middle and High School History teacher who now holds a Master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide studies. Over the years she has done extensive research on various portions of the Holocaust and other acts of Genocide including, Rwanda, the Belgian Congo and Bosnia. Currently, Ilyse Muser Shainbrown is the Director of Holocaust Education and Newark Initiatives at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. Through both programs, Ilyse works to ensure that Holocaust education is taught broadly in public, private and parochial schools throughout Essex, Union, Morris and Sussex counties, New Jersey.