On January 20th, 1942, senior officials of the German Nazi Party met in a villa in the Wannsee district of Berlin to discuss what they called the Final Solution to the Jewish question—the deportation and extermination of the Jewish population of German-occupied Europe.
This “Final Solution” is today known as the Holocaust–the systematic, bureaucratic annihilation of six million Jews by the German command and its collaborators, as a central act of state during the Second World War. It was an act perpetrated against a specific segment of the population as part of the Second World War, yet it was separate from the German war effort. Indeed, the Final Solution often took precedence over the war effort: despite a desperate need for personnel and material on the front lines, no assets or supplies were diverted from death camp assignments.
Never before in human history had genocide—the annihilation of an entire people–been implemented as government policy despite the fact that it brought no economic or political advantage.
As writer George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is why we must never forget the Holocaust and the millions of people who perished in it.
In 1979, the U.S. Congress designated the date corresponding to Nisan 27th on the Hebrew calendar, as the beginning of the 8 days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust. This year, that date falls on April 24th.
“Although words do pale, yet we must speak. We must strive to understand. We must teach the lessons of the Holocaust. And most of all, we ourselves must remember,” said then-President Jimmy Carter on April 24th, 1979.
“We must learn not only about the vulnerability of life, but of the value of human life. We must remember the terrible price paid for bigotry and hatred and also the terrible price paid for indifference and for silence.
“To truly commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, we must harness the outrage of our memories to banish all human oppression from the world. We must recognize that when any fellow human being is stripped of humanity; when any person is turned into an object of repression; tortured or defiled or victimized by terrorism or prejudice or racism, then all human beings are victims, too.
“The world’s failure to recognize the moral truth forty years ago permitted the Holocaust to proceed. Our generation–the generation of survivors–will never permit the lesson to be forgotten.”