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U aligns with international Days of Remembrance

Nearly 40 years ago, University of Utah history professor Ronald Smelser launched the University of Utah’s Days of Remembrance program.

In the four decades since then, U Remembers events have been scheduled at different times of the year—sometimes in the spring, other times in the fall. Most recently, U Remembers has fallen in November, around the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

This year, university leaders have decided to shift the date of the remembrance events to the United Nations’ International Day of Commemoration—January 27. The change is an effort to align U Remembers with Holocaust remembrances at other campuses and across the country.

Days of Remembrance were established after the end of World War II as a way to honor the victims of the Holocaust and teach younger generations the history of that genocide. Smelser, now retired, was a respected researcher of the cultural impact of the Holocaust; he worked with the Holocaust Educational Foundation and edited Learning about the Holocaust: A Student Guide.

Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” is the name for the 24-hour period of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when the Nazi Party’s paramilitary forces, along with the Hitler Youth and German civilians, smashed and looted Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues in a pogrom to terrorize Germany’s Jewish population. Other universities schedule their remembrance events around the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, usually at the end of April or beginning of May. This year, that Day of Remembrance is scheduled on May 6. And in 2005, the U.N. General Assembly picked the January anniversary of the liberations of Nazi concentration camps as the date for international remembrances.

The U’s shift in dates is meant to better coordinate the university’s commemoration with other events around the world, said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for equity, diversity and inclusion.

“We want to be a community that can reflect, consider all the events happening around us, and then come back together,” Villarreal said. “The work we have to do together to build understanding and bridges in our campus community is difficult and challenging. I believe this new date will anchor us in that work.”

The United Nation’s date falls at the beginning of the spring semester and will not conflict with finals, college convocations and Commencements, as late spring dates might in the future.

The planning committee for U Remembers will continue to meet this fall and explore additional content for events during the fourth week of January 2024.

The shift also will allow broader discussions on campus about the volatile and evolving Israel-Hamas conflict.