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On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, revisit NPR's stories from survivors

Public officials including Israeli Knesset President Mickey Levy, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a wreath-laying ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on Thursday in Berlin.
Sean Gallup
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Public officials including Israeli Knesset President Mickey Levy, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a wreath-laying ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on Thursday in Berlin.

Thursday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945.

Nearly two decades ago, the United Nations General Assembly designated Jan. 27 an annual day of commemoration for its member states, in honor of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism. (In addition to marking the anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau, many countries hold national commemoration ceremonies on other dates connected to the Holocaust).

Remembrance Day also aims to promote Holocaust education, an especially timely mission with antisemitic incidents and Holocaust denialism on the rise in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Notably, today's event arrives less than two weeks after a gunman held a rabbi and three others hostage for hours at a synagogue in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas.

And it comes as outrage is building over a Tennessee school board's decision to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel "Maus" — over concerns about profanity and nude imagery (despite the characters being cartoon mice) — earlier this month, at a time when conservatives in many states seek to dictate how schools teach sensitive topics like racism and sexual health. A Texas district made headlines in October after an administrator reportedly instructed teachers to provide students with "opposing" views of the Holocaust.

In the U.S., President Biden is marking the day by inviting Auschwitz survivor Bronia Brandman — who lost her parents and four of five siblings and didn't speak of her experience for half a century — to share her story at the White House.

Biden said in a statement that the world has an obligation to honor victims, learn from survivors, pay tribute to rescuers and carry on the lessons of the Holocaust, a charge he described as especially urgent since fewer and fewer survivors remain.

"From the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, to a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, we are continually and painfully reminded that hate doesn't go away; it only hides," Biden said. "And it falls to each of us to speak out against the resurgence of antisemitism and ensure that bigotry and hate receive no safe harbor, at home and around the world."

He added that it is imperative to "teach accurately about the Holocaust and push back against attempts to ignore, deny, distort, and revise history," noting that the U.S. co-sponsored a U.N. resolution this month charging the global community with combating Holocaust denial through education.

The U.N. designates each remembrance day with a guiding theme. This year, it's "Memory, Dignity and Justice." The theme aims to encourage action to challenge hatred, strengthen solidarity and champion compassion, as the U.N. explains on its website.

"The writing of history and the act of remembering brings dignity and justice to those whom the perpetrators of the Holocaust intended to obliterate," it says. "Safeguarding the historical record, remembering the victims, challenging the distortion of history often expressed in contemporary antisemitism, are critical aspects of claiming justice after atrocity crimes."

In that spirit, here is the U.N.'s full list of virtual ceremonies, seminars and cultural events running today and well into the month of February. Those include the U.N. Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, which was livestreamed worldwide between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET. Additional educational resources and another ceremony livestream are available from the website of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And what better way to remember than by hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors themselves? We've collected some of NPR's recent coverage and interviews below.

  • A family helped a Holocaust survivor escape death. Then they became his real family (2022)
  • 75 Years After Auschwitz Liberation, Survivors Urge World To Remember (2020)
  • 90-Year-Old Auschwitz Survivor Shares Her Story (2021)
  • Holocaust Survivor Returning To Auschwitz: 'It's Like Going To The Family Cemetery' (2020)
  • A Holocaust Survivor's Celebration Of Liberation Day Is Colored By Coronavirus (2020)
  • Auschwitz Survivor Who Fought Racism With Music Dies At 96
  • Eddie Jaku, Holocaust survivor and self-proclaimed happiest man on Earth, dies at 101 (2021)

  • This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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