The History of International Holocaust Remembrance Day & The Liberation of Auschwitz - The Jewish Voice
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The History of International Holocaust Remembrance Day & The Liberation of Auschwitz

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On November 1, 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 60/7 to designate January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD). The date marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and is meant to honor the victims of Nazism. The same resolution supports the development of educational programs to remember the Holocaust and to prevent further genocide.

Soon after liberation, a Soviet physician examines Auschwitz camp survivors. Poland, February 18, 1945. This photograph is a still image from Soviet film of the liberation of Auschwitz. Photo Credit: Federation Nationale des Deportes et Internes Resistants et Patriots

Resolution 60/7 not only establishes January 27 as “International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” it also rejects any form of Holocaust denial. The resolution encourages member states of the UN to actively preserve sites that the Nazis used during the “Final Solution” View This Term in the Glossary (for example, killing centers, concentration camps, and prisons.) Drawing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the resolution condemns all forms of “religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief” throughout the world.

Commemoration Activities

The first commemoration ceremony was held on January 27, 2006, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. Nearly 2,200 people attended in person. Since the ceremony was broadcast live on television, many more people were able to view it throughout the world. The UN Headquarters holds official commemorations each year. UN offices across the world and other state offices also conduct their own ceremonies.

Since 2010, the UN has designated specific themes for the annual commemorations.

Selection of Hungarian Jews at the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Poland, May 1944. Photo Credit: Yad Vashem Photo Archives


In 2010, the central theme revolved around Holocaust survivors and the lessons they pass on to future generations. The 2011 theme focused on the experiences of women. The 2012 theme was “Children and the Holocaust” and highlighted the effects of mass violence on children. In 2013, remembrance events centered on individuals and groups who risked their lives “to save tens of thousands of Jews, Roma and Sinti and others from near certain death under the Nazi regime during the Second World War in Europe.” The 2014 theme focused on journeys through the Holocaust—from deportation to liberation. In 2015, the central idea was how the experiences of the Holocaust shaped the founding of the UN.

Soon after liberation, an emaciated child survivor is carried out of camp barracks by Soviet first-aid workers. Auschwitz, Poland, after January 27, 1945. This photograph is a still image from Soviet film of the liberation of Auschwitz. Photo Credit: La Documentation Francaise


The 2016 theme explored the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ connection to the Holocaust. In 2017, the theme emphasized “Holocaust education as a platform for building respect for human rights, increasing tolerance and defending our common humanity.” In 2018, the theme was “Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility.” The 2019 theme encouraged young people to “learn from the lessons of the Holocaust, act against discrimination, and defend democratic values in their communities.” In 2020, the theme reflected on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the end of World War II, and the founding of the UN.

View of a section of the barbed-wire fence and barracks at Auschwitz at the time of the liberation of the camp. Auschwitz, Poland, January 1945. On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz and liberated more than six thousand prisoners, most of whom were ill and dying. Photo Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Philip Vock

The theme of 2021 centered on recovery and reconstitution. It examined the aftermath of the Holocaust, as well as ongoing efforts to address anti-Semitism, disinformation, and hate speech. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commemoration ceremony was held, for the first time, virtually.


The 2022 theme was “Memory, Dignity, and Justice.” It explored how preserving the historical record and challenging distortion are elements of claiming justice. The theme of 2023 is “Home and Belonging.” It reflects on what these concepts meant to persecuted individuals during the Holocaust and in its aftermath.

National Commemoration Ceremonies

In 2015, 39 countries participated in International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration ceremonies. Remembrance activities varied by country. Some hosted lectures and presentations on different topics, while others showed films and documentaries on the Holocaust. Other countries lit candles or read the names of victims of the Nazi regime.

Jewish women and children from Subcarpathian Rus who have been selected for death at Auschwitz-Birkenau, walk toward the gas chambers. May 1944. Photo Credit: Yad Vashem Photo Archives

In addition to observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day, many of the participating countries have established their own remembrance days that are often connected to events from the Holocaust. For example, Argentina legislated April 19, the day of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, as the national Day for Cultural Diversity. Hungary designated April 16 as National Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the establishment of the ghetto in Munkács. In 1979, the United States Congress established Days of Remembrance that usually take place between April and early May to commemorate victims of the Nazi regime. The US Days of Remembrance correspond to Yom Ha-Shoah, Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. *


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