On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held annually on 27 January, Luxembourg's Ministry of Culture and the Luxembourg Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO have reflected on the significance of sites relating to the remembrance of recent conflicts.
In a joint statement, the Culture Ministry and the national UNESCO commission noted that the tensions on the sidelines of recent demonstrations against COVID-19 measures in Europe have testified to a great ignorance about the Holocaust among several participants. Consequently, International Holocaust Remembrance Day (also known as International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust), which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on 27 January 1945, has become all the more relevant.
In 1979, the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its "Outstanding Universal Value". Since then, eighteen properties and sites associated with memories of recent conflicts and other negative and controversial memories have received this same recognition because they are considered to be "directly or tangibly associated with events [...] of outstanding universal significance" (criterion IV of the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage). These sites pay homage to the victims and are places of memory, but also “sites of conscience” which invite visitors to reflect on the human atrocities committed across all eras. Their goal is to connect past to present and memory to action.
The World Heritage Committee recently set up a working group, in which Luxembourg's Ministry of Culture is represented, which is tasked with carrying out an in-depth reflection on all of these sites. Changing values and interpretations of the past require ongoing verification of adequacy of statements of outstanding universal values. According to the Culture Ministry and the Luxembourg Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, we have been witnessing for some time now a profound change in values that we believed to be unshakable, namely democracy, peaceful coexistence and respect for other cultures.
The statement concluded: "The International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust must remind us to what extremes the denial of all these values has led and can always lead".