Words Matter: Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Last Friday, I had the honor to participate in the Commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at America’s most powerful monument to this most horrific period of history – the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum, which sits near the National Mall among the most well-known symbols of our nation’s history, should be on every American’s list of must-see memorials. The history told within its walls, and the personal stories of those who survived and those who perished, must be understood by us all.
At the ceremony, I sat with Holocaust survivors, their families, diplomats from around the world, and individuals who traveled from near and far. Following eloquent speeches by the Israeli and Swedish Ambassadors to the United States we watched as Holocaust survivor Josiane Traum moved to the lectern. Barely reaching the height of the microphone and speaking without any notes, Ms. Traum’s story of survival transfixed each of us in attendance. She spoke of her family who had to make impossible decisions that saved her life; of the nuns that sheltered her and risked their own lives; of the family in Brussels that took her in when she had nowhere to turn; and of the neighbors that helped – and those who didn’t. Ms. Traum survived, millions of other Jews did not.
Photos from Holocaust Remembrance Day
We must never forget her story, or the individual memories of so many other survivors. We must also never forget that words matter. Words, like those in her story, can move us. Others can be dangerous. This is evident in the startling exhibition “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” on which the Museum has partnered with the United Nations. This exhibit, which will be shown around the world including at UN Headquarters in NY, shows us the Nazi use of images and words to pave Hitler’s rise to power and then “create a climate of indifference to the elimination of Jews and others viewed as undesirable by the Nazis.” It demonstrates that by twisting meaning and pointing fingers, false narratives can be created that stir emotions and move people to action, even in the face of all evidence.
While the Nazis used posters, rallies, newspapers and radio, today we have added social media, 24-hour news cycles, and the ability of any organization or any individual to create their own news, with their own choice of words. For us to truly make “never again” mean “never again”, we must seek the truth behind images and words, and protect and defend those being falsely accused or blamed.
A visit to the Nazi Propaganda exhibit at the UN, or, better yet, to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, is a chilling reminder of what can happen when we don’t.
– Robb Skinner, Director, United Nations Information Center
Interview with Robb Skinner
Video of the Ceremony