Seventy-seven years ago today, the largest concentration and death camp in Europe, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. By then, more than six million Jews and millions more people – including Roma and Sinti, Slavs, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals – had been killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor those innocent lives lost. We honor, too, Holocaust survivors; those who saw true evil, and whose lives were unalterably shaped by it.
Countless families were forever changed – including my own, as well as those of numerous colleagues here at the State Department.
Some colleagues, like Foreign Service Officer Mark Mishkin, had grandparents whose lives were saved by American and other Allied troops. Others, like Embassy Jerusalem Deputy Chief of Mission Jonathan Shrier, had relatives rescued by foreign diplomats, who granted them the visas that got them out of harm’s way.
Many of these descendants felt a pull towards diplomacy – to resolve conflicts with dialogue, not war, and to work so that such a genocide would never happen again.
And many others lost family members in the Shoah. People like Susan Benda, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and a lawyer for the State Department, and whose grandparents were murdered at the Chelmno death camp. She and her brother both joined the Department, Susan said, to “stand up to the voices of hatred, division, and oppression and to fulfill [the United States’] promise as a beacon of democracy and justice in the world.”
That charge is as important as ever today, as we see rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust distortion and denial around the world.
History tells us these acts are often the canary in the coalmine. They foreshadow trouble not only for Jews, but also for other marginalized groups, that, if left unaddressed, is often a precursor to violence.
In moments like this, it becomes ever more important that we all remain vigilant against efforts to rewrite history, and protect the facts of the Holocaust. That we speak up against manifestations of hate against any and all groups, wherever they occur. And that we do everything in our power to stop conflicts before they start.
That must be our mission, on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day and always.