Before the Holocaust, during which at least 6 million Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, there was no term to describe the systematic destruction of a people.
A Polish refugee to the United States named Raphael Lemkin invented the term “genocide” in 1944, when Nazi atrocities reached their height. (In addition to Jews, some 5 million Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, prisoners of war and others were killed by the Nazis.) U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says Lemkin “almost singlehandedly led to the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Genocide Convention, the U.N.’s very first human rights treaty.”
The U.N. General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau labor and extermination camp by Soviet troops in 1945.
Beneath the many horrifying and tragic stories from the Holocaust, there were glimmers of goodness. Author Robert Satloff documents instances of Jews in North Africa who were saved from Nazi persecution by their Arab neighbors.
“Hatred is not genetic — no one is born intolerant,” said U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer. Baer noted that Lassana Bathily, a French Muslim, exhibited the sort of goodness documented by Satloff when he hid customers during the January 9, 2015, terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
“It’s not a question of Jews, of Christians or of Muslims,” Bathily said. “We’re all in the same boat.” He downplayed any notion that he is a hero, saying, “It’s nothing. It’s life.”