27 January 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed this date as International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (resolution) in 2005.
UNESCO commemorated this important anniversary with a series of events on 22 January 2020 at its Headquarters in Paris. Permanent Delegates, representatives of civil society and the general public were invited to attend a conference and ceremony as well as to view two exhibitions linked to the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the history of the Holocaust, and related research.
The conference, entitled “Auschwitz-Birkenau: 75 years after”, was opened by UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini and highlighted recent academic findings regarding the history of the site, challenges relating to its preservation and significance for future generations. Invited speakers from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, UNESCO's World Heritage Center, and the Shoah Memorial engaged in conversations with moderator Nathalie Saint-Cricq and the public, exploring new insights and unanswered questions regarding the site, which was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1979.
Both exhibitions shown at UNESCO's Headquarters offered visitors new perspectives on the history of the Holocaust: The first exhibition “Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers”, developed by the Wiener Holocaust Library, the House of the Wannsee Conference and Touro College Berlin focuses on the beginnings of Holocaust research starting with the first courageous individuals who documented the Nazi crimes at the time of the Second World War. The second “Seeing Auschwitz”, conceived by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial specifically for UNESCO and United Nations Headquarters, invites visitors to take a closer look at photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau and those who perished there. Both exhibitions remain on show at UNESCO Headquarters until 5 February 2020.
The day closed with a ceremony in memory of the victims of the Holocaust in presence of UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay, the Vice-President of the German Bundestag, Claudia Roth, the Vice-President of the Shoah Memorial, Francois Heilbronn, and Akif Gilalov, President of the World Congress of Mountain Jews. The ceremony opened with a video message by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In her welcome address, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay underlined the importance of education in addressing persistent forms of antisemitism and discrimination, ”being attentive means helping to prevent the resurgence of genocide and mass violence; it also means fighting hate speech. Although the Nazis were defeated, neither antisemitism nor racism are dead,” she said.
The kaddish was presented by Chief Rabbi Olivier Kaufman, followed by a testimony by Polish Holocaust survivor Marian Turski, recalling the unimaginable horrors endured by those imprisoned in camps and ghettos like Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Terezin, contrasted by his unbreakable desire to live. The Moscow Male Jewish Cappella choir closed the event with a selection of traditional Jewish songs.
UNESCO’s commemoration of the International Day reaches beyond UNESCO Headquarters in Paris: On 27 January, UNESCO Director General was to join an international delegation of Heads of State and International Organizations at the official ceremony organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Oswiecim Poland. In addition, UNESCO and the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme cooperate to bring the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibition “Some were Neighbours” to United Nations Information Centers and UNESCO Field Offices around the world.
The events were organized in partnership with the Mémorial de la Shoah, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme of the United Nations Department of Global Communications, and the World Congress of Mountain Jews.
They received the support of the Permanent Delegation of Austria to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of France to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of Germany to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of Monaco to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO, the Austrian Zukunftsfonds, and the World Congress of Mountain Jews (Programme leaflet). The World Jewish Congress is a communication partner through the #WeRemember social media campaign.
UNESCO’s annual activities on the occasion of the International Day are organized within the framework of the Organization’s programme on education about the Holocaust and genocide.
UNESCO’s International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust took place on 22 January and focused on the Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This year, the Organization marked the anniversary of the camp's liberation at its Headquarters in Paris with a conference, a ceremony, and two exhibitions.
The conference, Auschwitz-Birkenau 75 years after (3.15pm to 5.20pm), focused on three themes:
“Preserving heritage. Site management and collective memory” on challenges relating to the protection and conservation of the site, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979, along with its artefacts and archives, their management and use for research and education, as well as the place Auschwitz occupies in the collective memory. Presentations by Olivier Lalieu, Head of Remembrance Sites Management and External Projects at the Shoah Memorial (France) and Mechtild Rössler, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
“Studying Auschwitz-Birkenau. Research perspectives and academic freedom” (4pm to 4.30pm) presented recent findings and outline new avenues in studying the history of Auschwitz highlighting the importance of free academic research and debate. Presentations by Piotr Setkiewicz, Head of the Research Department, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum (Poland), and Patricia Heberer-Rice, Director of the Office of the Senior Historian, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Reaching new generations. Dealing with the past and youth empowerment” (4.40pm to 5.10pm) examined educational approaches to the history of Auschwitz, ways to sustain the interest of new generations and raise awareness of its relevance in addressing contemporary issues. Presentations by Andrzej Kacorzyk, Director of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Paul Salmons, Curator and Pedagogue, international travelling exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.
The commemoration ceremony (6.30pm to 8pm), opened by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay with the participation of Eric de Rothschild, President of the Mémorial de la Shoah (France), and Claudia Roth, Vice-President of Germany’s Bundestag. It included performances by the Moscow Male Jewish Capella choir, historic video footage, a survivor’s testimony by Marian Turski of the Jewish Historical Institute Association, Chairman of the Council for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and the chant of funerary prayers by Chief Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann (France).
Exhibitions, 22 to 30 January:
“Crimes Uncovered: The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers” Conceived by the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site (Berlin), the Touro-College (Berlin) and the Wiener Holocaust Library (London).
“Seeing Auschwitz”, Conceived by Musealia, with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (Poland).
On 27 January, official date of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, the Director-General of UNESCO joined more than 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivors along with dozens of Heads of State and Government at the Auschwitz Memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of the the Nazi concentration and extermination camp’s liberation.
UNESCO’s Holocaust commemoration was organized in partnership with the Mémorial de la Shoah, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the United Nations and the Holocaust Outreach Programme of the United Nations Department of Global Communications, as well as the World Congress of Mountain Jews, with the support of the Permanent Delegations to UNESCO of Austria, France, Germany, Monaco and the Russian Federation as well as Austria’s Zukunftsfonds.