Holocaust Remembrance Day can teach us about tolerance

The United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrated today, 27 January annually, offers many lessons for today.

That’s the opinion of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (U.N.E.S.C.O.) Director, Ms Nisha.

Drawing on the broad context of the Pacific and its role in the Second World War, Ms Nisha said Holocaust commemorations are largely not prioritised in Samoa, or in the Pacific.

“This part of the world was pulled into the world wars but it was not a party to it,” she explained.

“Therefore the anti-Semitism or the Nazism that affected the rest of Europe, and many parts of the world, those were not experiences in the Pacific so it’s not necessarily seen as history of the Pacific.”

Around the world, national commemorations in line with a U.N. resolution from 2005 are taking place to remember the lives of six million Jews persecuted and killed by the anti-Semitic Nazi party of 1930’s Germany.

In total, 17 million people were victims to the Nazi’s, including Roma, ethnic Poles and Slavs, Soviet citizens, gay people and Jehovah’s Witness.

This year marks 75 years since the beginning of the end of the Holocaust, the liberation of concentration camps by allied forces in 1945. 

Today, the lessons of the Holocaust are many, Ms Nisha said, especially the reminder that genocide, and hate crimes do not happen overnight.

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She said genocide, or the discrimination that enables it can occur in a society of any kind, and that there is always a need for awareness of how that happens.

“Genocide doesn’t happen by announcing itself. Small things build up and turn into something big,” she said. “You know, all of us are capable of love and hate.”

In line with honouring the victims of the Holocaust, Ms Nisha said U.N.E.S.C.O. is encouraging all member states of the U.N. to ratify the convention on prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. 

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa announced Samoa would be ratifying the Convention in 2019, joining 149 states.

To date, three countries have been before the International Criminal Court relating to breaches of the convention; Iraq, Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia. A case relating to Sudan is currently pending. 

In 1951, the U.N. was presented with a petition by the Civil Rights Congress of the USA arguing America was responsible for genocidal abuses of Black Americans. 

Here in Samoa, while the Holocaust may not directly touch people’s lives, the lessons of Samoa’s colonial past can teach similar lessons of tolerance, bias and intercultural understanding. 

November’s exhibition at the Museum of Samoa about the first indentured labourers from China was a good example of how the ‘othering’ takes place, Ms Nisha said  

“That’s a very good reminder of who we see today as the ‘other’, are very much part of us.

“It was a good exhibition to show how the Samoans and that indentured labour came together and became one, not only integrated to become completely absorbed into society but to make it rich, economically, socially.”

“I think the Pacific may not have had the Holocaust but there are enough examples if a society wants to draw lessons. All they need to do is turn the leaf in the book and go a few decades back, and see.”

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