• 2023/01/27

Global memory of the Holocaust. What does it mean to us today?

Global memory of the Holocaust. What does it mean to us today?

The Holocaust, one of the darkest chapters in human history, continues to haunt us today despite the passing of several decades. The memory of this tragedy is not limited to just one nation or region. It has transcended geographical boundaries and left an indelible mark on society worldwide. The United Nations declared January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. This date marks the liberation of survivors from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The significance of this day of remembrance has grown increasingly important in today’s world, as societies of different ethnicities, leaders of various countries, and national and international organisations come together to honour the victims of the Holocaust. However, this is not a day for mere reflection. Opposite, it serves as a warning to guide us in our present-day choices, echoing the powerful watchword “Never Again”.[1]

Therefore, it’s not only about preserving the past. In light of recent tragic events such as the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar or the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it is difficult to remain indifferent to the relevance of the Holocaust in our present day. This tragic past serves as a reminder of the importance of tolerance and acceptance. While some argue that the old ideological divisions in politics are slowly fading, a new division has emerged: those who strive for a humane world based on universal values and humanism and those who pursue a path of dehumanisation. This reality prompts us to take a closer look at our actions and ask the question, how prominent is the Holocaust in our global society today?

Historiography and Holocaust memorialisation has flourished in the previous decades. This is related to the enormity of the event and the need for a moral compass in an age of uncertainty and the absence of master ideological narratives.[2] As a result, the Holocaust has become a moral conviction that today transcends national boundaries and connects Europe and the rest of the world.[3] However, the central significance of the Holocaust differs in each country.

In Lithuania, for example, the Holocaust and its commemoration hold special significance as the country saw a large percentage of its Jewish population murdered during World War II. Over a few years, approximately 195,000–200,000 people were killed during the Nazi-German occupation and the USSR-German war, with only a tiny fraction of the Lithuanian Jewish population surviving. This was the first time in Lithuania’s history that so many people were killed in such a short time.[4] Thus, for many Lithuanians, the memory of the Holocaust holds important lessons about tolerance, diversity, and the dangers of extremism and genocide. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of taking responsibility for the actions of the past and working towards a more inclusive and just society.

The Holocaust’s relevance today is that it serves as a reminder of the dangers of dehumanisation. In the Holocaust, the Nazis were able to commit acts of mass murder and violence against Jewish people and other marginalised groups by first dehumanising them. Dehumanisation is the abolition of human dignity, rights, and humanity.[5] This dehumanisation process can be observed in genocides and acts of hatred throughout history. For instance, the Nuremberg and Berlin Laws in the Holocaust, where acts of authorised discrimination were committed, in the cases of Rwanda and Cambodia, where hate speech and perceived trustworthiness led to community violence and the loss of autonomy and cultural traditions.[6] During the war in Ukraine, Russian authorities and armed forces committed multiple war crimes, including deliberately targeting civilians, massacring innocent people, and committing torture and sexual violence against women and children, demonstrating a complete disregard for human life. On January 23, as the Council of Europe prepared to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, E. Zingeris, Chairman of the Lithuanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, called on behalf of Holocaust victims to halt the artificial anti-Nazi terminology used by Russian occupiers, which underlies Russia’s war against Ukraine.[7] This is an important message, as it highlights the dangers of using language to dehumanise and justify violence against marginalised groups. These are just a few examples which remind us that dehumanisation is a common thread in acts of genocide and violence.

Thus, it is essential to acknowledge that the Holocaust is not just a story about Jewish history during World War II. It is a profoundly personal account of the impact of dehumanisation on a community. It serves as a reminder that we must always be vigilant against prejudice and hatred so that the past does not become anyone’s future. This means recognising and opposing hate speech, discrimination, and violence against marginalised groups in our societies and solidarity with those facing such treatment worldwide. The current period of “universalisation of the Holocaust”[8] and “global culture of Holocaust remembrance”[9] is not just about understanding the experience of the Holocaust but also about finding strategies for preserving the culture of Holocaust remembrance to prevent future genocides, Holocaust denial, racism, and human rights violations.


Prepared by Akvilė Beleškaitė within the framework of a traineeship programme of the EFHR



[1] The phrase or slogan “Never again” is associated with the Holocaust and other genocides. The term may have originated from Yitzhak Lamdan’s 1927 poetry, “Never again shall Masada fall!” In the backdrop of genocide, released prisoners at Buchenwald concentration camp adopted the term to express antifascist feelings.

[2] Levy, Daniel and Sznaider, Natan, ‘Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory”, European Journal of Social Theory 5:1 (2002), 93.

[3] Levy and Sznaider, “Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory,” 96.

[4] https://www.vle.lt/straipsnis/holokaustas/

[5] https://hmh.org/education/why-holocaust-still-matters-today/

[6] The Economist. “Remembering the Holocaust, Bearing Witnesses Evermore,” August 27, 2013.


[7] https://www.lrs.lt/sip/portal.show?p_r=35720&p_t=283615

[8] Gross, Zehavit. “The Process of the Universalization of Holocaust Education: Problems and Challenges.” Contemporary Jewry 38, no. 1 (2018): 5–20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-017-9237-2.

[9] Fracapane, Karel, Matthias Hass, Unesco, and Stiftung Topographie des Terrors. Holocaust Education in a Global Context. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2014.

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