Thursday marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where more than a million people were murdered.
The day is commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It’s really important that we understand the tragedy of what happened, and we try to educate so that we don’t have it happen again,” says Debbie Fitzerman, president of Kingston Jewish Council.
Separate from Yom HaShoah, a more religious Holocaust Remembrance Day held in the spring within the Jewish community, the day intends to honour victims of the Holocaust through awareness, education and information campaigns.
“Every number had a name and every one of these victims was a real person that lived and had a real life and a family and a job,” says Yos Tarshish, director of Queen’s University’s Hillel, a Jewish campus organization.
“A big part of what we think about is, ‘How do we preserve their memory,’ and ‘How do we think about their memory?'”
Tarshish says the day is a time to remember.
“We talk a lot about, ‘never forget.’ I think there’s a flip side to that, which is ‘always remember,’ and they sort of go hand in hand.”
The day of remembrance comes at a time when some people are comparing COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the conditions of the Holocaust.
“There’s a lot of education that needs to be done, because these comparisons are not only wrong, but they’re offensive and they’re dangerous frankly,” says Rabbi Erin Polansky of Beth Israel Congregation.
“And the more misinformation and rhetoric like this that we hear, the more unsafe it gets for Jewish people and any minorities.”
Fitzerman says that it’s incredibly disturbing to see people wearing yellow stars and holding up signs that relate current times to that of the Holocaust.
“It’s incredibly disturbing,” Fitzerman says. “I don’t think people know that Jews were forced to wear yellow stars to identify them so that no one would do business with them.”
“It was a way of knowing who they were so they could be rounded up and sent to death camps,” she adds. “All of this — it just shows that education is so important so you don’t forget.”
Online events In honour of Holocaust Remembrance Day are being held around the world to raise awareness and educate.
Queen’s Hillel will be holding its final event of a week-long education event this Friday, Jan. 28, encouraging students to have open discussions with their roommates around a Shabbat meal.
The message from local Jewish leaders in Kingston, Ont., is to listen and learn.