WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (JTA) -- The United Nations will commemorate its second annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday, Jan. 27. Its General Assembly chose to start marking this occasion last year with a resolution urging every country to honor the victims of the Holocaust and promote the development of educational programs to prevent genocide in the future.
When this resolution was adopted, then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "There can be no reversing the unique tragedy of the Holocaust. It must be remembered, with shame and horror, for as long as human memory continues. Only by remembering can we pay fitting tribute to the victims. Millions of innocent Jews and members of other minorities were murdered in the most barbarous ways imaginable. We must never forget those men, women and children, or their agony."
I believe it is essential that we take explicit steps to remember the horror of this blight on human history. A recent poll taken in the United Kingdom revealed a shocking ignorance of the Holocaust among its young people. The poll, conducted by The London-based Jewish Chronicle, reported that 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are not certain that the Holocaust took place. That is deplorable and distressing. And I fear that the United Kingdom is not the only country where such results would be found.
Even more disturbing are political leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claims that the systematic persecution of an entire people, and the murder of 6 million Jews and others targeted by the Nazis, was fabricated.
As the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the United States Congress, I am outraged at attempts to deny what I witnessed and experienced firsthand.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is the time for all of us to ensure that the victims shall not have died in vain. But it is also a time to remember those, like the Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, who heroically stood up in the face of unspeakable evil and said no to the horrors of genocide.
It was my honor this week to bring to the floor of the House of Representatives legislation to acknowledge the courage and personal sacrifice of these two amazing individuals, posthumously recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The Sharps answered a call from the American Unitarian Association and twice left their own young children to travel to Europe to save the lives of Jews who were being killed and persecuted. Due to their efforts and those of their Unitarian colleagues, some 2,000 men, women and children were saved from the Nazi death machine.
The Sharps' remarkable story is a powerful reminder that all of us have a moral obligation to take action to end violence, and to prevent and stop genocide.
We must educate our young people who do not know the significance of the Holocaust. And we must fight against the revisionist historians and phony leaders like Ahmadinejad.
Recent atrocities in Rwanda and Darfur in Sudan remind us that our pledge of "Never again" has not been fulfilled. Let us learn from the Reverend Sharp and his wife to have the fortitude and foresight to act against such evil.
I am proud to say that my colleagues in Congress overwhelmingly stood up to remember the extraordinary human kindness exhibited by the Sharps. It is my most fervent hope that on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, the next generation will heed their call and find the courage to act in the face of atrocity.
(U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, is the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.)
© JTA. Reproduction of material without written permission is strictly prohibited.