KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — During the Holocaust, more than 6 million Jewish people were killed. Families were torn apart while people were worked to death, starved and were systematically killed by the Nazi regime during the 1930s and early 1940s.
One of the worst camps was Auschwitz, located in southern Poland. There, Jewish prisoners were forced to make munitions and supply the German army, bolstering their war effort during World War II. All the while, Jewish people were systematically chosen to be killed.
More than 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz before it was liberated. Thursday marked the 77th anniversary of when its prisoners were freed as Allied forces pushed into Poland and later won the war.
Since then books have been published, photos have been shared and stories were told about the survivors of the Holocaust. One book won a Pulitzer Prize, Maus, but it was recently banned by the McMinn County Board of Education. And at the University of Tennessee, a 2015 exhibit curated by a professor showed the remnants of Auschwitz.
Governor Bill Lee proclaimed Jan. 27, 2022, Holocaust International Day in Tennessee. In the proclamation, Lee described it as a "state-sponsored, systemic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators."
In it, he also says Jewish communities continue to endure violent attacks antithetical to the country's founding principles. Recently, a synagogue in Texas was targeted by a gunman who held multiple people hostage.
Several Jewish organizations also organized a "No Hate In Our State" event on Thursday, where participants had the chance to show their support for communities and take a stand against antisemitism and all forms of hate. To watch the virtual event, click here.
During the event, speakers spoke on how the number of hate crimes against Jewish people is rising. In 2020, the Anti-Defamation League reported more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents throughout the country.
"The worst possible thing that could have happened. We understand the importance of having it on our calendar but to have it on the secular calendar as well," said Rabbi Erin Boxt from Temple Beth-El. "Being a Rabbi, obviously, I'm more attuned to antisemitism than any other kind of hate but that doesn't mean I don't know that there are other types of hate out there."
It's a heavy burden to remember. In his teachings, he said it's hard to find even one member of the Jewish community who hasn't been impacted by the Holocaust.
"I don't want to say I am thrilled, because that's not the right word to use, but I am reminded every year when this day comes along about how important it is for all people, not just Jewish people to remember," Boxt said. "When you go into a synagogue anywhere in the world, you're always going to find somebody who either lost family in the Holocaust or they are a survivor themselves."
He said that for most of the Jewish community, and especially for survivors, every day is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Adding it to the calendar is a mark of how far this country has come with religious tolerance and a motivator for how far this country is still yet to come, he said.
"Worldwide, we can remember the catastrophe. The horrific moments. The 13-and-a-half million people that were lost because of the actions of the Nazis," he said.
This day isn't just about remembering, he says, it's about expanding awareness and preserving history.
"I think they probably appreciate that the world remembers, but they always remember," Boxt said.
Boxt is organizing a "Stronger Than Hate" interfaith service in March at Temple Beth El in Knoxville. About 25 local representatives from different religious communities will speak about the importance of working together.