I was 12 or 13 years old when I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join a remembrance tour to some concentration camps across Austria and Germany.
It was an experience as shocking as transformational for me and I do still vividly remember walking around the Dachau camp, one of the biggest and most deadly among all the extermination sites across Europe.
The fact that the Embassy of Israel, the Embassy of Germany, the Delegation of the European Union to Nepal and the United Nations in Nepal joined hands to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust is significant also for Nepal.
Because, though very far from here, the deliberate attempt at suppressing and exterminating one entire civilization and culture during the World War II, should remind us at the same time how vicious human beings can turn out to be but also the spirit of forgivingness that can help us heal and become better persons.
Indeed, the Holocaust is a universal story, the biggest tragedy faced by our humanity and at the same time, it is a great example how victims and perpetrators can come together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.
It is a story not just about what Jews had to endure not only during the World War II but also in the years before that, crucial years in which anti-Semitism grew exponentially, day by day, throughout Europe, fueled by harsh rhetoric that at the end normalized hatred and led to millions being killed.
Unfortunately the seeds of what happened then might, tragically, lead us to more tragedies now fueled by a hatred toward others that are just different from us.
Instead of getting rid of racism and discriminations, the era we are living through is more and more bogged down by misconceptions, stereotypes, charged emotions against particular minorities, a phenomenon echoed by a pervasive social media that have been working as echo chambers to disseminate disinformation and falsehoods.
Remembering the Holocaust in Nepal is important because at its roots there is a fundamental racist view of the world that comes from ignorance, fear and insecurity.
Unfortunately there is no country around the world that is immune from these and while it is true that a genocide is something monstrously different from any other type of crimes that happened so far in the modern history, there are links and common points between all types of violence based on discriminatory attitudes.
Though it can take different forms and shapes, at the core of the enabling factors that led to extermination of millions of Jewish people is a view of the society that somehow some are better than others, that some are deemed to be the culprits of existing problems even though the underlying rationale of such accusations are totally baseless.
We should be extremely careful to draw comparisons of what happened in Europe between the World War I and events in other parts of the world.
Encouragingly now there is an international legal framework--there is a convention against racism, there is the international convention upholding human rights universally and there is much more awareness about what can lead to a genocide.
And yet we are witnessing how racism including anti-Semitism is spreading in Europe and in North America, where even a recent football game in Milan had one of the most successful football player mocking with a racist remark his opponent, also a remarkable and extremely talented athlete but with a different skin color.
One thing can lead to another and we should be really careful to condone small remarks, even those that are being made unconsciously.
It is from these subtle discriminations that stronger and more vocal forms of racism originate, kicking off a sort of snowball effect that can truly lead to more serious forms of crimes, including violence.
Education against racism, against the pre-concepts that are inborn in each of us, education for a better understanding is indispensable.
That’s why the fact that the Higher Institutions and Secondary Schools' Association Nepal (HISSAN) has joined the official commemorations on what is officially called the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust also known internationally as International Holocaust Remembrance Day is important.
Civic education plays a key role in shaping students’ view of their country and the world.
Patriotism is definitely an important element of civic education but discussions about it should not set aside talks about other aspects that can make a country not only great and prosperous but just.
As an European I am encouraged by the actions being taken by the European Commission to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of racism but as someone deeply in love with Nepal, I also would like to see schools and colleges around the country to better embed their civic education classes with elements of social justice, human rights, all elements that are the foundations of what this country is aspiring to become.
In this there is no country that can really teach others on how to model the perfectly equitable and just society.
It is going to be “a work in construction” everywhere and we can all learn from each other.
My dear friend Michael Rosenkrantz who for several years has been living in Nepal and who had many family members killed during the Holocaust, shares to me:
“There is still anti-Semitism in existence because people are very tribal. It’s not just about anti-Semitism but is just a general dislike of others who don’t look like us”.
We often relate to each other more for our differences than for what we have in common. We can see how this is pervasive in the United States and in Europe as well.
Perhaps as human beings we are wired for this but I believe we can always be better and the way Germany has embraced its moral failures during the World War II is exemplary.
No genocides have been committed in Nepal but discrimination in many forms is still rampant.
Nepal has a real opportunity to instill positive and universal values among its youths to lay the foundation for a better nation.
Having one week of awareness about the Holocaust as it has been planned by the organizers of the Holocaust’s commemoration this year is going to be important but how can we attach more meaning to the concept of active citizenship, one that does a better job at internalizing the principles enshrined in the Constitution of this country with its quest for peace, harmony and justice?
While it is true that Nepal has been progressing on its human rights agenda, the recent universal review of its human rights performance also shows that there are still many gaps, not only at the policy level.
My visit to Dachau shaped me in so many ways.
Talking about the tragedies of our past generations, even if they occurred far away and decades ago, can help us become better and truly push for a more equitable, just Nepal, a country that can become a paragon for upholding human rights.
(Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths to promote social inclusion in Nepal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)