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June 6, 2019 9:15 am

Remembering D-Day and the Holocaust: Fighting Nationalism With Remembrance

avatar by Yana Barinova


The entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On Tuesday, June 6, 1944, a massive Allied landing operation commenced on the beaches of Normandy, in northern France. In one of the largest military incursions in history, D-Day began the liberation of Europe from Nazi control, and laid the foundations for the longest period of peace and harmony across the continent.

Tens of thousands of British, US, and Canadian troops landed under heavy gunfire to defend innocent people all over the world against the oppressive fascist regimes that sparked the Second World War. In one huge show of unity, these nations were able to work together to demonstrate the power of a human race that comes together to defend human rights and build a better future for all.

While Europe has not faced another war of this nature since then, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and serves as a timely reminder as to why international cooperation, mutual respect, and freedom for minorities is of the utmost importance.

So why is it that today we seem to have forgotten the most basic human principle of caring for one another?

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Europe hasn’t gone to war since World War II, but political and ideological conflicts have plagued the continent’s  societies in recent years. Britain has seen a dramatic rise in support for far-right groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First, with Member of Parliament and pro-Europe campaigner Jo Cox brutally murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016.

Some of these far-right groups have even managed to rise to power. Large swathes of nationalist voter support led to the Austrian Freedom Party forming a coalition with conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, which fell recently. Spain, once thought to be a barren ground for such politics after its liberation from dictatorship in 1975, saw the election of 24 far-right Vox Party members in April this year.

And it’s not just nationalist politics. Islamophobia, antisemitism, and a variety of other forms of racism are emerging and threatening to put a choke-hold on our shared dream of progress towards a tolerant, equal society.

Despite the fantasies of many of these far-right political leaders, grand societal change has never come about as a result of a nation’s individual effort. Combined force was an indispensable tool for making the D-Day landings a success — and today, just as was the case in 1944, a better and more accepting future can only be achieved through the widespread unity of people and collaboration for a greater good, regardless of our differences.

Realizing this future is the mission of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, which was named after the Babyn Yar ravine — a Nazi execution site in Kiev, Ukraine — that documents and commemorates genocides, including the Holocaust. Between 1941 and 1943, over 100,000 Jews, Kiev intelligentsia members, Soviet prisoners of war, psychiatric patients, disabled people, communists, and Roma were murdered at the site in the name of Nazi politics.

Ukraine has come a long way since it declared its independence in 1991. Recent events, such as democratic presidential elections or the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014, have shown that the country is on a path to developing a new national narrative, based on democratic values and the principles of dignity and justice.  This new narrative also reflects our readiness to reconcile with our own divided past, no matter how traumatic it was.

Every year, June 6 serves as a reminder of why international cooperation, mutual respect, and human freedom, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities, is of the utmost importance and relevance today. We are facing challenges right now that echo those of 75 years ago, and we are seeing the rise of divisive forces within Europe and around the world. Of particular concern in Ukraine is the fate of Crimean Tatars and innocent victims of the ongoing war in Donbass.

World War II and the D-Day landings required a multinational effort to bring those forces to heel. We must commit ourselves to an international effort to ensure that the world never again experiences such tragedy and trauma.

We at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center believe that our project is an integral part of that call to action. As long as the fight for human rights and equality continues due to human dignity being in danger, you can expect to hear the name of Babyn Yar.

Yana Barinova is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Strategy Officer of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.

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