In the Jewish calendar, the 27th day of Nisan (which is typically sometime between April 6 and April 30 on the Gregorian calendar) marks Yom HaZikaron laShoah velaGvura, Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Heroism. This day commemorates the approximately 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. In Israel, it is a national memorial day.
As a boy growing up in a reformed Jewish home, Hebrew school on Wednesday nights and synagogue on Saturdays were part of my upbringing. As winter turned to spring each year, the discussions in the classroom and in the temple were that of Holocaust remembrance. Jewish children are exposed to both the history and subsequent horrors of the Holocaust at a very early age. By extension, young and inquisitive minds delve quite logically into the larger questions surrounding this event: “Who was Adolf Hitler?” “What was World War II?” And for that matter, “What was World War I?” There is practically no limit to how far you can extrapolate questions that stem from those world-altering events of the first half of the 20th century.
Hand-in-hand with Holocaust remembrance is the reminder of Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is a blend of anti-Semitism mixed with anti-history, for to deny the facts of the Holocaust is akin to denying the facts that nineteen members of Al Qaeda violently hijacked four passenger airplanes and flew three of them into buildings on September 11, 2001. Holocaust deniers dispute and reject the overwhelming physical and historical evidence of the scale and methods of the liquidation of Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Third Reich. They argue the number of deaths of Jews (estimated at 6 million) is a gross exaggeration of quantity. They argue that the gas chambers of the Nazi-run concentration camps were not used for extermination, or that they never existed at all. They argue that no orders were ever given to exterminate the Jewish inmates of the death camps. These and many other lies and distortions fuel the fires of Holocaust denial.
For better or for worse, some people’s heads are too firmly buried in their hearts when they purposefully refuse to accept indisputable facts. Holocaust denial represents the worst feelings in the hearts and minds of people, and the deniers will be damned before any facts get in the way of their most cherished beliefs. In the truest spirit of Yom HaZikaron, and as a tip-of-the-hat to the traditions of my upbringing, I would like to extrapolate the recognition of 27th day of Nisan to include the other victims of Holocaust-like atrocities of the 20th century. They include, and are in no way limited to, the following:
- The additional Polish, Romanian, Soviet, and handicapped German people (upwards of 10 million) murdered by the Nazi regime during World War II.
- The upwards of 1.5 million Greeks and Armenians killed at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
- The estimated 5–10 million Ukrainians, plus 20–40 million Russians and people from other former Soviet
- The upwards of 300,000 victims in Nanking, China who were tortured,raped, and killed at the hands of Emperor Hirohito and the army of Imperial Japan. Japan’s occupation of China prior to and during World War II killed upwards of 30 million Chinese.
- The staggering 49 million to 78 million Chinese people who died under the rule of Mao Ze-Dong.
- Upwards of 1.5 million Iraqi people tortured, raped, and killed at the hands of Sadaam Hussein.
- Upwards of 2 million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.
- An estimated 1.5 million Ethiopian people who suffered and died between 1975 and 1978 under the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
- Upwards of 1 million Rwandans slaughtered by the Hutu militia of that country.
- Upwards of 1.6 million (and it could be millions more) people who have died in North Korea under the rule of Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il.
These are just a handful of the worst genocides of the 20th century. There are even more. They all deserve recognition in their proper historical context. Besides the innate horror that threads all these despicable instances of human history, the other common trait they share is that they all have detractors and historical revisionists that dispute the facts of history concerning these atrocities.
It is unfortunate, but history denial and Holocaust denial are ubiquitous. They are timeless, and they are ceaseless. They must be confronted, fought, and constantly corrected by educators, scholars, historians, scientists, politicians (especially world leaders), and by the skeptical community at large, lest we see the people of the 21st century suffer some of the same fates that 20th century history has recorded.