International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme seeks to remind the world of the lessons to be learnt from the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide. The Observance Programme occurs each year on January 27.


The Outreach Programme was created at the request of the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 60/7, adopted on 1 November 2005. The United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) has taken the lead in creating a broad initiative, designed to encourage the development by United Nations Member States of educational curricula on the subject of the Holocaust, and to mobilize civil society for education and awareness.

The “Holocaust Remembrance” resolution also designates 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust – observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at UN offices around the world. The 2006 ceremony in the General Assembly Hall drew over 2200 people, and was viewed by countless others globally via webcast and live television broadcast.

Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly reaffirms that ‘the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

You can read more background on the United Nations Outreach Programme

What was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jew under their domination. Because Nazi discrimination against the Jews began with Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933, many historians consider this the start of the Holocaust era. The Jews were not the only victims of Hitler’s regime, but they were the only group that the Nazis sought to destroy entirely. The term Holocaust is defined by the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (1989) as a large-scale sacrifice or destruction, especially of life, especially by fire. As the research of Jon Petrie shows, Holocaust was already used by some writers during the war itself to describe what was happening to the Jews. Alongside it, various other terms such as destruction, disaster, and catastrophe have been and are still being used today to describe the fate of the Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe, although the dominant usage in American English since the middle of the 1960s is of the word Holocaust. In Hebrew, the word Shoah is used, and it appears more and more frequently in English-language texts. Genocide is a legal term for the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups. It may include, but does not necessarily include, the physical annihilation of the group. The Holocaust is an expression, and arguably the most extreme expression, of genocide.

What is Holocaust Denial?

HOLOCAUST, DENIAL OF THE: Claims that the mass extermination of the Jews by the Nazis never happened; that the number of Jewish losses has been greatly exaggerated; that the Holocaust was not systematic nor a result of an official policy; or simply that the Holocaust never took place. Clearly absurd claims of this kind have been made by Nazis, neo-Nazis, pseudo-historians called ‘revisionists” and the uneducated and uninformed who do not want to or cannot believe that such a huge atrocity could actually have occurred.
(From: Robert Rozett and Shmuel Spector (eds.), The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, New York: Facts on File, 2000)

Holocaust denial was attempted even before World War II ended, despite the obvious evidence at hand, The Nazis who attempted to carry out the “Final Solution” — the extermination of European Jewry — used euphemistic language like the terms “Final Solution” and “special treatment” rather than gassing, annihilation, and killing, in order to conceal their murderous activities from the world. During the last two years of the war, Sonderkommando units, put to work in a secret program called Aktion 1005, were charged with digging up mass graves and burning the corpses. Again, the Nazis’ purpose was to hide all evidence of their activities.

UN Observance 27 January

The date 27 January commemorates the day in 1945 that the Soviet army discovered the horror of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over 1.1 million people were murdered in this vast killing machine, almost one million of them Jewish. Nazi Germany also persecuted and slaughtered millions of other people for their race, politics or sexual orientation. The site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, is a symbol of “man’s inhumanity to man”, and the enduring proof of crimes committed out of racist and anti-Semitic hatred.

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