For the first time this year, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, was observed without crowds online in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the 1945 liberation, at the end of World War II, of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, where 1.1 million people, most of them Jewish men, women and children, were murdered by the Nazis—a significant percentage of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis regime.
The Holocaust Day began at sunset April 20 and continued for a week. This year, remembrances and ceremonies, typically held in the living rooms of Holocaust survivors, were held online in response to social distancing guidelines being observed the world over.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is different from Holocaust Memorial Day, which is held every year on January 27, the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
In Israel, Warsaw Ghetto Square, where Holocaust Day is usually commemorated, was devoid of dignitaries and guests this year. Instead, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broadcast live on national television.
“The Nazi beast conquered bodies, but not spirits,” Rivlin said. “In the paths of tears, in the valleys of hell, in a disintegrating world devoid of solidarity, when death was among them every day, our brothers and sisters put their lives at risk to save the weakest among them.”
“They proved time and again that … even at the lowest point, one can and must choose to be human, to hold the most fundamental Jewish value of life, of mutual responsibility,” he added. “And so they were the angels in the heart of hell.”
The president recalled this past January’s World Holocaust Forum, where international leaders gathered at the very same spot to observe Holocaust Memorial Day. “We recognized a simple truth—that we must stand together, global leaders and citizens of the world, against racism, anti-Semitism and fascism, defending democracy and democratic values,” Rivlin said, emphasizing the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
He warned against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in recent years, comparing its cancerous spread to that of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus snaking its way from country to country.
Every year during the Holocaust Day ceremony, six Holocaust survivors traditionally light torches and then speak about their experiences. This year, because of the pandemic restrictions, the torch lighters were filmed prior to the event, and their testimonies visually displayed on a screen during the observances.
One was Yehuda Beilis, a Holocaust survivor from Lithuania. He described how the Judenrat, the council representing the local Jewish community, managed to find and hide 22 children. Yehuda, a teenager at the time, smuggled them out one by one to a Catholic priest who had befriended his family, Father Stanislovas Jakubauskis, that Yehuda describes as “Righteous Among the Nations” typifies the courage and compassion of those who risked everything to save those who survived.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.