“Holocaust Remembrance: Responsibilities For All Society”
The virtual B’nai B’rith program, “Holocaust Remembrance: Responsibilities for All Society” also featured live remarks by United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who shared personal memories of his mother’s family’s Holocaust experience. Mayorkas talked about foundational principles that define anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, and said that hate manifests in ways we can see but also lingers below the surface. He added that the prevalence of this bigotry continues to present an existential threat and that we cannot assume the Holocaust could not recur. Finally, he noted, “An attack born of hate against one minority is an attack against all.” Mayorkas—who, like other speakers, commended B’nai B’rith for its relevant work—said that although International Holocaust Remembrance Day is just one day each year, “We know that remembrance is every day, as is the work that must accompany it.”
In his remarks, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas made the point, “Left unchallenged, Holocaust-distortion nourishes anti-Semitism.” He said, “We need to protect our societies from any attempt to rewrite history, and support open and independent research on all aspects of the Holocaust. At the same time, we must step up our efforts to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, using the definition of IHRA as our starting point.” IHRA is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body that has adopted critical working definitions of both anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial.
In advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, B’nai B’rith’s program focused on collective responsibility to remember and to educate about the systematic murder of six million Jews across Europe during the Shoah.
Opening the program, with a global virtual audience this year due to the pandemic, B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin noted: “As we wrote in a letter to U.N. member states” in support of an Israeli-initiated resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly last week, “Holocaust-denial is fundamentally not just about revisionist histories… it is an attempt to deny the past in order to justify present or future violence against the Jewish people and other vulnerable minorities.”
B’nai B’rith Director of U.N. and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels and Director of European Union Affairs Alina Bricman moderated two panels of distinguished figures. Panel I focused on government action across the world and featured:
- Irwin Cotler, Canadian Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism
- Ellen Germain, United States Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues
- Fernando Lottenberg, the Organization of American States Commissioner to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
- Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life
Cotler said, “Anti-Semitism is toxic to democracies. Holocaust distortion is toxic to democracies. We need a global constituency of conscience to combat it.”
Panel II focused on best practices from other diverse fields and featured experts:
- Kathrin Meyer, Secretary General, IHRA
- Daniel Lörcher, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Borussia Dortmund
- Tracey Petersen, Manager of The United Nations and the Holocaust Outreach Programme
- Tibi Galis, Executive Director, Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide
- Omar Al Busaidy, CEO, Sharaka USA
Meyer warned: “Holocaust distortion desensitizes people to anti-Semitic acts… and it’s a disgrace toward the victims and the survivors.” She added, “To remember the Holocaust… is a responsibility of humankind.”
Dani Dayan, Chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, provided a concluding message, introduced by B’nai B’rith U.N. Affairs Chair Millie Magid. Dayan said, “I leave this program encouraged. It’s clear we have an effective, a committed world-wide community of Shoah remembrance.” He stressed the importance of documentation and research. “Documentation is ultimately the testimony of the six million” who were not able to give physical testimony.
B’nai B’rith President Seth Riklin closed the program, thanking the guests for “your insights and your critical work,” and urging support for B’nai B’rith’s ongoing efforts on Holocaust memory, combating anti-Semitism and other key objectives around the world.
The complete program, “Holocaust Remembrance: Responsibilities for All Society” can be found here.
B’nai B’rith—which has led Jewish communal engagement with the United Nations since the world body was founded in 1945—played an active role in U.N. adoption of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005, and has held yearly events since then at the U.N.’s world headquarters in New York and online.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org.