WARSAW, Poland — Thursday marked the first international Holocaust Survivor Day, a chance to recognize those who made it out alive alongside the memorial days that already honor the millions killed in the Nazi genocide.
“Of course we wanted to celebrate them and to honor them,” said Jonathan Ornstein, the day’s founder and the executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow.
“Let’s hope that we’ll be able to not only thank them… but where they need help, to actually make sure that they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and honor and comfort,” he added during an online panel to mark the occasion.
Israel already commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day, while January 27 was designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations to honor the memory of the six million European Jews and the millions of other victims of the Nazi genocide.
“But these days are mainly directed at the tragedy,” Ornstein and Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum argued in an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post earlier this year.
“Holocaust survivors deserve a day of joy; a day of celebration. Not a day to share with condemnation of the Nazis,” they added.
Ornstein chose June 26 for the holiday so that it would coincide with the birthday of Polish Holocaust survivor Marian Turski, who will turn 95 this month.
Because the day falls on the Sabbath this year, the inaugural edition was held early, on Thursday.
In addition to Turski and other survivors, those who spoke at the online festivities included “Schindler’s List” director Steven Spielberg.
He called the day “a long overdue celebration of living witnesses, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.”
In 1994, Spielberg established a foundation that video recorded 55,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.
“It is just a joy for me to see more than 60 organizations come together today to celebrate the bravery, the sacrifices, the lives of the most courageous people I’ve ever known,” he added.