Have you heard of Holocaust Remembrance Day?
Until recently I had not, I saw it mentioned on someone’s blog and decided to research it and find out more like when it is and when it was started and why have I not heard of this before now. I wish I could tell you why I have not heard of it before but I can’t I don’t have a answer to that question.
The Holocaust is marked in Israel on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. This date was reached after much deliberation.
The Holocaust spanned years, from before the start of World War II in 1939 and through to its end in 1945. As Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality were harassed, tortured and murdered on every single day of the year, it was impossible to single out a single date as the “most appropriate” Holocaust Remembrance Day. Also, due to the unprecedented nature of the horror – industrialised genocide – the question arose of how to mark the Holocaust on the chosen day.
The systematic destruction of Jewish life in Europe became widely known before the war’s end, but it was only when the war ended and the death camps were liberated by Allied troops in 1945 that the true dimensions of the calamity became apparent.
In 1947, the Chief Rabbinate of Mandatory Palestine set up a committee to think of possible dates for an annual memorial. This committee thought the date should be related to the annihilation of Warsaw’s Jewish community, which before the war was 500,000 persons strong and the second-largest Jewish community in the world (after New York).
Many dates were put forward and dismissed and in fact different countries have different days for the remembrance. Usually between January and April, I think here in Australia the date is the 27th January but I am not sure I have done a lot of looking and have not found the exact date.
The first Holocaust Remembrance Day took place on December 28th, 1949, a year-and-a-half after Israel’s independence. The ashes and bones of thousands of Jews were brought over from the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp near Munich. They were placed in a crypt, together with decorated Torah scrolls, in a Jerusalem cemetery. A rabbi appointed by the Rabbinate presided over the religious ceremony. The public was invited to an overnight vigil at the crypt and in the morning a prayer service and Talmudic study session were held in honour of the victims.
The following year, in December 1950, some 70 ceremonies were held around the country. The events were organised by the Rabbinate, organisations of former European Jewish communities and the Israeli Defence Forces. They mostly took the form of funerals, in which artefacts and the ashes and bones of the dead brought over from Europe were interred. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, did not have a special ceremony.
But in March 1951, the Knesset decided to take an active role, and set about choosing a new date for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Three were proposed: again 10 Tevet; Passover; and September 1, the date the war broke out on.
In 1959, the Knesset passed a law officially establishing Holocaust Memorial Day in law and sanctioning official ceremonies throughout the country as well as a two-minute moment of silence, indicated by sirens.
On the Holocaust Remembrance Day of that 1961, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller announced that from then on April 19 would be Warsaw Ghetto Remembrance Day in the State of New York.
In 1971, Israeli television began broadcasting special programming for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, most channels don’t broadcast on Holocaust Remembrance Day and those few that stay on air, show only Holocaust-related programming.
On November 1, 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order making April 28 and 29 official “Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust.” The date was chosen as the date in which U.S. troops liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945. The first of these days of remembrance was held in 1979 in a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, led by Carter.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Council was established in 1980. Since then the eight Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust are set from the Sunday before the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The first national memorial held under this new council took place in the White House on April 30, 1981, with President Ronald Reagan making his first public appearance following a recent assassination attempt.
In 1981, the Knesset amended the law to push Holocaust Remembrance Day back or forward a day if it fell on the weekend.
Since 1988, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, people from around the world have participated in “The March of the Living” from Auschwitz to Birkenau, in Poland.
Since 1996, Germany has observed January 27 as Tag des Gedenkens an die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (“Day of Remembrance of the Victims of National Socialism.”) January 27 was chosen as it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army in 1945. The day is marked by a ceremony at the German parliament and cultural events around the country.
Sweden observes its Holocaust memorial day – Förintelsens minnesdag – on January 27th too. The Swedes first began holding an annual memorial for the victims of the Holocaust in 1999.
In 2001, January 27 became Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom. Greece followed suit in 2004.