Understanding the lessons of the Holocaust

“On Holocaust Remembrance Day,” said WZO vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel, “the world stops and says, ‘There was a Holocaust, we remember it and we want to prevent another one from happening.’"

 World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel. (photo credit: COURTESY WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION)
World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel.
"International Holocaust Remembrance Day is special, because it was established by a resolution of the United Nations. Not by the Jewish people but by the world as a whole.”
Yaakov Hagoel, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the head of the Department for Israel and Countering Antisemitism, says on that day the entire world remembers the atrocities committed against the Jewish people and other minorities.
“On Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he points out, “the world stops and says, ‘There was a Holocaust, we remember it and we want to prevent another one from happening.’”
Tracing the history and significance of observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, Hagoel says, “This date was chosen to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day because it was the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp by the Nazis, which occurred on January 27, 1945. In 2004, the Israeli government and the Knesset decided to establish this day as a day to mark the struggle against antisemitism, a decision which showed a great deal of foresight.”
Hagoel says the participation of world leaders in the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem is especially significant because as the years go by it is even more necessary to strengthen and emphasize events of remembrance and commemoration.
“Today, when antisemitism has once again reared its ugly head on European soil, in the United States and elsewhere,” he says, “we remind humanity that the struggle is not over. We must not only remember and commemorate what happened 75 years ago but join hands and fight antisemitism by every means. This is a time not only of remembrance, but a time when we must continue to fight the terrible disease of antisemitism.”
Educating the next generation about the events of the Holocaust, Hagoel explains, is essential to preventing hatred and animosity toward others.
“We must ensure that studying the Holocaust is a requirement in schools around the world,” he says. “This is critical because if there is ignorance students will not learn, and they will not remember. We need to educate people to have love for the ‘other,’ not hate.”
Hagoel says that students need to learn the basic facts about the Holocaust, including the atmosphere of the time, the historical background and its causes, and most importantly, to draw practical conclusions from its study.
“It is key to know, understand and love others, and treat minorities properly, in the same way that we want to be treated.” He adds that it is vital to respond to Holocaust-deniers that have proliferated on the Internet. “If we are living in Israel, we may not be aware, or affected by antisemitic attacks in Paris or New York, but we are aware of what happens on the Internet, and we can respond.”
The World Zionist Organization is active throughout the Jewish world, providing tools to Jewish communities to deal with antisemitism and Holocaust-deniers. This past September, the WZO held a conference in Chile, which has experienced numerous antisemitic incidents of late, and gathered Jewish leaders from throughout South America. Three conferences were held in the United States recently, and in December, Jewish leaders from 16 countries assembled in Paris to study means of countering antisemitic behavior. Later this month, says Hagoel, a conference will be held at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, which will express the solidarity of Jews in Israel with their fellow Jews in the Diaspora against acts of antisemitism.
As the Holocaust begins to fade from the collective world memory, Hagoel says it is essential to preserve the testimonies of the remaining survivors, through video and other means, in order that the world not forget. Noting the importance of preserving as much concrete evidence as possible, Hagoel points to the actions of Abdallah Chatila, a Lebanese-born Christian who purchased Nazi memorabilia at a recent auction in Europe to keep them from falling into the hands of neo-Nazis, and then donated them to Yad Vashem, to be a testimony for all generations.
Despite the recent rise of antisemitic activity in the world, Hagoel remains optimistic about the future of the Jewish people.
“I am not worried about another Holocaust,” he says. “The main difference between 75 years ago and today is that now we have the State of Israel. Throughout our history, we have succeeded to overcome those who sought to destroy us with our unity, our resilience, and our faith. Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the State of Israel stands firm, and maintains the security of the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora.”