It is an obvious statement to say that time moves forward. Particular events move further and further away as we accelerate into the future but one can always find threads of the past woven into the present day. Every new year brings with it another marker on the tally of memorialization and 2020 in particular yields some rather relevant anniversaries. January saw the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, whose memorials brought the horrors of the Holocaust back to the forefront of the public mind. September this year will also mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the second world war. Both occasions mark an “ending” but hold with them the weight of trauma and horror that cannot be undone or turned away from.
Many of us believe, on a personal level, to try not to live in the past. Indeed, it is the basis of many mindfulness practices. The past cannot be changed and it is the present moment that is important. Nevertheless, acts of remembrance and memorialization are an important part of our culture. Each year we celebrate days dedicated to public figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. (January 20th), days celebrating the country’s history such as Independence Day (July 4th) and days that deliver respect for those who have suffered for the country, Memorial Day (May 25th).
Public memory is short-term and with our faces turned to the future, we understandably get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Yet, some events shook the world so undeniably that they are remembered not only on designated public days, but in the teachings of histories, literature’s and physical memorials in our cities. The after effects of events such as the holocaust and World War 2 resonate clearly into the future.
It can be argued that regularly remembering these events can stop history from repeating itself, recognize where we have evolved and where we have yet to change. Unfortunately, the Holocaust, although a chilling warning against fascism, is not a stand-alone event or a blip in human nature. We have seen it again and again throughout history and since, with Apartheid and most recently the coordinated attacks on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Sadly, therefore, the Holocaust has important messages that still need to be repeated today.
The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz relived the historical fact, shared the narratives of survivors and told the stories of those lost. The importance of remembering such an event not only pays homage to those affected, understanding that even after seventy-five years the damage has not lessened, but it holds a scrutinizing mirror up to society as we recognize the depths of evil that humankind is capable of.
The honoring of the victims of the Holocaust prompted important discussions of Antisemitism to come further forward. Like racism and many other forms of prejudice Antisemitism is still not a thing of the past and concern is mounting due to a rise in this form of discrimination. An article from the BBC noted that the Anti Defamation League had recorded 1879 incidents of Antisemitism in 2018 which, although down from the previous year, demonstrates a growing trend. Worldwide studies of Antisemitism indicated a rising level of prejudiced crimes overall.
Although many of the year’s anniversaries fall under the title of “seventy-five years since the end of World War 2” scattered through 2020 are many anniversaries of importance within that cohort. Notably, August will mark seventy-five years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A subject which is fraught with moral complexities but the true atrocity of which is undeniable. Sadness and respect and for the 70,000 innocent Japanese people is still felt today and is very important to memorialize. In today’s society the fear of Nuclear warfare has a firm placement at the precipice of the worlds mind as countries attempt to avoid conflict. Dubbed “the bomb that shook the world,” the unprecedented and unpredictable volume of its devastation still shocks and scares us today.
Memorialization is a crucial and cathartic pillar of society that allows both a communal grief, respect and solidarity. After times of such devastation this is important. Although seventy-five years may have passed there are still those alive who directly experienced World War 2, the Holocaust or the atomic bomb and those who dealt with loss or witnessed the after-effects and struggles of their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and so on. 2021 will mark twenty years since the Twin Tower Attacks. A memory that is painfully held in the minds of many, the losses of which still play a significant role in many of our lives today. Memorializing such events spread awareness and understanding in the public sphere. Just as teaching children in history classes can, in a controlled environment, appropriately educate and inform in order for a public evolvement to take place. Clear rights and wrongs can be underlined and through understanding prevent history from repeating itself.