CHGS Marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 27, 2021

A portrait of Dora Zaidenweber. Dora is an Auschwitz survivor.
A portrait of Dora Zaidenweber from the "Portraying Memories" project.

In his acclaimed memoir Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi recounts a recurring dream he and other inmates had in the Nazi death camp: that he returned home to his family and told them about the horrors he lived through, but nobody listened. Levi writes, “The person standing in front of me doesn’t stay to hear, turns around and goes away.”

Levi’s nightmare became a reality for many survivors in the immediate postwar years. Some made great efforts to bear witness to their ordeals under the Nazis, and to assure that their memory would not vanish into the abyss. Survivors wrote testimonies, chronicles, and other texts. Many were never published or translated into other languages. Initially, few people listened.

It was not until decades later that survivors were awarded a new social identity: that of the witness. They became the bearers of a unique history and also of fundamental moral and political lessons. They started talking to the media, in schools and at commemorative events. By sharing their stories more widely, they expanded their audience’s knowledge of the past. Their testimonies also situated the Holocaust – both as an historical event and as a warning for subsequent genocides – in the public’s consciousness.

In a time when few eyewitnesses to the Holocaust remain, Primo Levi’s ghastly premonition could become an appalling reality again. As philosopher Avishai Margalit has skillfully put it, the survivors have borne witness with the hope “that in another place or time there exists, or will exist, a moral community that will listen to their testimony.” The survivors of the Holocaust are leaving us, but their stories are preserved in oral history and video projects, museums, books, art, and film. It is now our task as educators to ensure that new generations become witnesses to the survivors’ historical experience, and assume responsibility for the events that occur in the present. In other words, to remember the past but also to identify the warning signs and know when to react.

Originally our Director, Alejandro Baer, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2015. 

As we reflect on the survivors and victims of the Holocaust today, and every day, we recommend the following resources from the Center: