This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly resolution that founded the U.N.’s Holocaust education program and created an international day for remembrance of the Holocaust, Jan. 27. The original B’nai B’rith program was timed for Jan. 27, but was postponed due to a snowstorm and has now been rescheduled closer to Yom HaShoah.
Starting in 2006, B’nai B’rith has annually held an event at the U.N. on Jan. 27 to commemorate the Holocaust, as a side-event to the U.N.’s commemoration ceremony in the General Assembly hall. The topics of each B’nai B’rith remembrance event have varied, dealing with such issues as Holocaust denial, education, restitution, rescue and the experiences of survivors and the second and third generations.
There are a number of different audiences that B’nai B’rith hopes to reach with these programs. First, we hope to reach the community of Holocaust survivors, who have waited for a long time for the U.N. to recognize their plight. Second, we hope to engage B’nai B’rith members and supporters, as well as a more general audience of locals in the New York metro area who are interested in the topic.
Just as importantly, though, this program also allows B’nai B’rith to engage the diplomatic community at the U.N.: officials in the U.N. Secretariat, member state representatives, NGO representatives and members of the U.N. press corps.
We continue to hear from certain member state and NGO representatives at various U.N. fora, especially during periods when the conflict flares up between Israel and terrorist groups seeking the destruction of the nation-state of the Jewish people, the occasional malicious reference to “genocide” and/or a “holocaust” against Palestinians. Meanwhile, the serial violations of human rights by dictatorial regimes who pose a grave threat to their neighbors are paid little attention to and, most tragically, genocides have been committed on the world’s watch with little collective action to attempt to stop them.
B’nai B’rith’s annual Holocaust commemoration, and the U.N.’s own Holocaust programs, provide an opportunity to reach out to those in attendance (and others who watch online) to discuss the unique historical event that was the Holocaust, to understand what is and is not a genocide and what are the warning signs.
The U.N.’s Holocaust education programs, transmitted through the United Nations Information Centers (UNICs) throughout the world, can teach the lessons of the Holocaust and the importance of remembrance to an even wider audience, including children in countries where there is no Jewish community or low levels of knowledge about the Holocaust, or even to countries where the government is openly hostile to Israel.
The goal of all of these programs, and indeed of Holocaust education efforts throughout the world, must be to create awareness that the factors that led to the Holocaust—among them, rampant anti-Semitism, anti-Roma bigotry, homophobia—did not start and end with the genocide. They have deep historical roots and continue to this day. Nowhere is it more important to confront the assaults against these and other vulnerable groups than at the United Nations.