How to Observe Yom Hashoah

Holocaust Remembrance Day

March of the Living in Auschwitz
Annually people from the all the world meets on the March of the Living in German Concentration Camp in Auschwitz Birkenau. Poland. wjarek / Getty Images

It has been over 70 years since the Holocaust. To survivors, the Holocaust remains real and ever-present, but for some others, 70 years makes the Holocaust seem part of ancient history.

Year-round we try to teach and inform others about the horrors of the Holocaust. We confront the questions of what happened. How did it happen? How could it happen? Could it happen again? We attempt to fight against ignorance with education and against disbelief with proof.

But there is one day in the year when we make a special effort to remember (Zachor). Upon this one day, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we remember those that suffered, those that fought, and those that died. Six million Jews were murdered. Many families were completely destroyed.

Why This Day?

Jewish history is long and filled with many stories of slavery and freedom, sorrow and joy, persecution and redemption. For Jews, their history, their family, and their relationship with God have shaped their religion and their identity. The Hebrew calendar is filled with varied holidays that incorporate and reiterate the history and tradition of the Jewish people.

After the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews wanted a day to memorialize this tragedy. But what day? The Holocaust spanned years with suffering and death spread throughout these years of terror. No one day stood out as representative of this destruction.

So various days were suggested.

  • The tenth of Tevet was proffered. This day is Asarah B'Tevet and marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. But this day holds no direct relation or tie to the Holocaust.
  • The Zionists in Israel, many of whom had fought in the ghettos or as partisans, wanted to commemorate the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising—April 19, 1943. But this date on the Hebrew calendar is the 14th of Nissan—the day before Passover, a very important and happy holiday. Orthodox Jews objected to this date.

For two years, the date was debated. Finally, in 1950, compromises and bargaining began. The 27th of Nissan was chosen, which falls beyond Passover but within the time span of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Orthodox Jews still did not like this date because it was a day of mourning within the traditionally happy month of Nissan.

As a final effort to compromise, it was decided that if the 27th of Nissan would affect Shabbat (fall on Friday or Saturday), then it would be moved. If the 27th of Nissan falls on a Friday, Holocaust Remembrance Day is moved to the preceding Thursday. If the 27th of Nissan falls on a Sunday, then Holocaust Remembrance Day is moved to the following Monday.

On April 12, 1951, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) proclaimed Yom Hashoah U'Mered HaGetaot (Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day) to be the 27th of Nissan. The name later became known as Yom Hashoah Ve Hagevurah (Devastation and Heroism Day) and even later simplified to Yom Hashoah.

How Is Yom Hashoah Observed?

Since Yom Hashoah is a relatively new holiday, there are no set rules or rituals. There are various beliefs about what is and is not appropriate on this day—and many of them are conflicting.

In general, Yom Hashoah has been observed with candle lighting, speakers, poems, prayers, and singing. Often, six candles are lit to represent the six million. Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences or share in the readings.

Some ceremonies have people read from the Book of Names for certain lengths of time in an effort to remember those that died and to give an understanding of the huge number of victims. Sometimes these ceremonies are held in a cemetery or near a Holocaust memorial.

In Israel, the Knesset made Yom Hashoah a national public holiday in 1959, and in 1961, a law was passed that closed all public entertainment on Yom Hashoah. At ten in the morning, a siren is sounded where everyone stops what they are doing, pull over in their cars, and stand in remembrance.

In whatever form you observe Yom Hashoah, the memory of the Jewish victims will live on.

Yom Hashoah Dates - Past, Present, and Future

2015 Thursday, April 16
2016 Thursday, May 5
2017 Sunday, April 23 (moved to Monday, April 24)
2018 Thursday, April 12
2019 Thursday, May 2
2020 Tuesday, April 21
2021 Friday, April 9 (moves to Thursday, April 8)
2022 Thursday, April 28
2023 Tuesday, April 18
2024 Sunday, May 5 (moves to Monday, May 6)