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holocaust commemoration 2014 at the united nations

Summary of 2014 Holocaust Remembrance Events
at United Nations Headquarters in New York
Reported by Madeleine Brecher, Fran Butensky, Joan Lurie Goldberg and Judy Mintz
 
The 2014 observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust centered on the theme “Journeys through the Holocaust”. This theme recalls the various journeys taken during this dark period, from deportation to incarceration to freedom, and how this experience transformed the lives of those who endured it.  These are stories of pain and suffering, yet ultimately also of triumph and renewal, serving as a guiding force for future generations.
 

THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEPORTATION OF THE HUNGARIAN JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST
23 January 2014
 
“Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any State or people. I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice by all the members of the international community.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The Security Police of the Nazi regime worked with the Hungarian authorities to systematically deport people of Jewish descent from Hungary in May of 1944. Almost 440,000 Jewish people were deported in less than two short months. Most were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau but some were sent to the Hungarian border with Austria where they were forced to build fortification trenches. The speakers included Dr. Carol Rittner RSM, Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide studies, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; Agnes Vertes, Hungarian Holocaust survivor and award winning documentary filmmaker; and H.E. Mr. Csaba Korosi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations. Dr. Rittner provided an excellent historical background, Ms. Vertes shared her personal story of survival and Ambassador Korosi provided information on how Hungary is commemorating this important anniversary. Jeffrey Brez, Chief of NGO Relations, Advocacy & Special Events, served as Moderator.
 
Dr. Carol Rittner, RSM, is a Roman Catholic nun (Religious Sisters of Mercy) whose current research interests include rescue during the Holocaust and other genocides.
There were approximately 825,000 Jews living in Hungary in 1941, about 63,000 died or were killed before the German occupation of March 1944. Just over 500,000 Jews died from maltreatment or murder. Less than one third of the Hungarian Jews survived the Holocaust.
 
Until 1944, Hungary was spared but in March of 1944, German forces occupied Hungary and installed the pro-German Hungarian minister to Berlin, General Dome Sztojay, as prime minister. In cooperation with German authorities, the Hungarian government sent gendarmes to round up all the Jews living in rural regions. The urban areas in which the Jews were forced to concentrate, sometimes without shelter, medical supplies or sanitary facilities, were referred to as ghettoes and they were forbidden from leaving.  Hundreds of doctors and lawyers were ordered to turn over everything they owned if they wished to survive which was all part of a massive deception. The Jews were removed from their professions, their bank accounts were frozen and they were forced to wear yellow armbands with the Star of David.  Adolf Eichmann met in Austria to work out a plan for the elimination of all Hungarian Jews. Headed by Eichmann, Hungarian authorities and German Security Police began the systematic deportation of Hungarian Jews. It took less than two months for the deportation of 440,000 Hungarian Jews, 12-14 thousand Jews were deported daily, most put on trains to Auschwitz.
 
The success was due in part to the indifference and passivity of the non-Jewish population under Nazi rule. By-standers stood by, Pope Pius X11 did very little. Some Lutherans and Catholics tried but most did not speak out. Just a few objected but not enough to sway the Catholic population. Individuals did what they could but not enough to save the Jews who were innocent victims of the genocide led by Hitler. Most people collaborated although some risked their lives. Without the cooperation of the Hungarian people, the “Final Solution” would have been far less deadly.
 
Dr. Rittner left us with this thought,  “Never be a perpetrator, Never be a victim, Never be a by-stander”.
 
Agnes Vertes is an extraordinary human being and a rare survivor in that she was born in 1940 and most children born that year in Europe did not survive the Holocaust.  Her documentary films have won awards and been featured in Jewish Film Festivals.  She speaks very well and her story is compelling.
 
In her talk, she related both her personal story and the story of Hungarian Jews.  In 1941, Hungarian Jewish men were taken to slave labor.  Some followed the Hungarian Army to the Russian front – they were not soldiers; had neither uniforms nor weapons, wore the yellow star and were fed half rations.  Needless to say, few survived. Her father escaped by jumping from a train.  The liquidation of the Jews of Hungary was carried out very late in the war and with hideous speed.
 
Although her family, relatively well to do, was able to survive, the experiences she related were harrowing.  In 1944, as the mass murder of the Hungarian Jews was about to begin, her father bribed someone at city hall and acquired birth certificates for her and her baby sister which listed them as Christians with their last name changed from Katz to Kovacs. (During this time a friendly Hungarian Army officer protected her parents)  A very poor, righteous Christian woman who lived in a shack cared for the sisters.  The shack was destroyed in a bombing and the sisters were moved to a home where about 100 children were being sheltered.  After a series of hideous incidents from which they barely escaped, the Russians liberated the city and, miraculously, her mother found both sisters sick but alive.  In one case, she and her sister were brought out to show German and Hungarian Nazi soldiers that the home they lived in was sheltering Christian children.  In fact, all the children were Jews.  Usually the soldiers were satisfied but one particularly nasty Hungarian demanded to see all the children’s papers.  Her two-year-old sister literally saved all of them by asking the soldier to try on his hat and charming him. 
 
Her story was very moving and reminded me of another survivor story we heard several years ago – the speaker concluded that those who survived did so because, every time they had to make a life or death decision, they picked the right one.  She was emphasizing that people survived by a series of lucky breaks, not by strategic thinking.
 
H.E. Mr. Csaba Korosi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations, began by thanking the other panelists for sharing their stories and thoughts. He then continued to speak with regret about the Holocaust.  We can only hope that many others hold his beliefs. He urged that now is the time that Hungarians must face the past and apologize for playing a significant part in the Holocaust.  He accused the Hungarian state and society of not protecting its citizens.  In addition to the human loss there was also an immeasurable amount of lost contributions from Jews to Hungarian culture and science.  He urged that the nation must remember the tragedy and not forget.
 
2014 has been declared Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year.  It will be a time for remembering.  Since education is the core of social remembrance, more compulsory study will be required for all primary and secondary school students.  Awareness will be encouraged for these generations.  High school aged students will be required to visit the Holocaust Documentation Centre.  In addition to a general historical overview, the commemoration will specifically draw attention to the youngest victims.  Memorial plaques will be installed on the walls of schools to honor the children who were sent to concentration camps and to the teachers who made attempts to save them.  A new children’s memorial will also be created.
 
Ambassador Korosi stated that the Hungarian government would not accept any form of anti-Semitism.  There is zero tolerance for hate crimes and Holocaust denial.  He acknowledged that anti-Semitism still exists as well as other forms of radicalism, but he stressed how laws and punishment are in place to act as deterents.
 
Repeatedly through his presentation the Ambassador spoke of tragedy, guilt, apology and debt.  He emphasized, acknowledged and took responsibility that the Hungarian government and its people enabled the Holocaust to spread across its borders.  He spoke of the righteous who saved lives, but there were simply not enough.  The audience came away with the hope that the past will not be repeated.
 
 
Memorial Ceremony
“Journeys Through the Holocaust”
27 January 2014
 
Programme
 
The ceremony was held in the UN General Assembly and marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.  This anniversary is marked annually on 27 January the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the worst German Nazi concentration and extermination camps, was liberated sixty-nine years ago in 1945. 
 
Video Message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
The Secretary General reminded us in a taped message that the “UN was founded to prevent any such horror from happening again”.   He recalled his own visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in November where his saw for the first time the remnants of the camp.  He mentioned the infamous gate, the machinery of the genocide, the barracks and the most brutal of conditions where the Jews, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, dissidents, prisoners of war, and persons with disabilities spent their final days. He wanted to honor and pay tribute to the victims, the survivors and the liberators.  He warned that we must always be vigilant against bigotry, extremist ideology, communal tensions and discrimination against minorities. 
 
Master of Ceremonies Mr. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information
 
KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Steven Spielberg
Filmmaker and founder of USC Shoah Foundation
 
Steven Spielberg was the keynote speaker at this year’s Memorial Ceremony, “Journeys through the Holocaust”.  He dedicated his talk to the survivors and also noted that the USC Shoah Foundation, which he founded, is a partner of the UN’s Holocaust Outreach Office.
 
The UN is very important – We hope that ultimately it will achieve all of its aims but in the meantime it provides a place for testimony to form bases for action and a place to bear witness.
 
Anti-Semitism built Auschwitz; Spielberg wondered why American anti-Semitism was (and is) so much less virulent.  This drove his politics and his career in filmmaking.  He wanted to convey his thinking to audiences and so, after 20 years of creating other types of movies; he decided to tackle Schindler’s List.  The survivors he met asked him to tell their stories, as it is vital to remember.
 
The beginning of this job was the formation of the Shoah Foundation in 1994.  He and his staff conducted 250 interviews per week around the world in 56 countries and in over 30 languages.  This was carried out in the first few years while many survivors were still alive.  This process became Spielberg’s “Journey Through the Holocaust”. 
 
The discussions with Jewish survivors of the Shoah revealed their optimistic attitude toward life in spite of their suffering.  He emphasized the amazing lives that many of these survivors have lived.  Most moving were his observations on the “demands” of the survivors.  They insist we must remember; the unthinkable must become the impossible and that has not happened yet.  The survivors ask us to recognize the precursors of genocide; not to wait until the mass graves have been dug.
 
The magnitude of the Shoah is impossible to comprehend.  His Center has collected over 52,000 testimonies; to see all of them would take 15 years for 24 hours per day.  And yet, these 52,000 represent less than 1% of the Jewish victims of this most horrific crime against humanity.
 
There have been other genocides since the Shoah and Spielberg has expanded the Center at USC to cover these as well.
 
Spielberg believes that the greatest evil is people who despair about the suffering of others but do nothing.  There should be no bystanders to history; history flows through all of us.
 
SPEAKERS
H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe, President of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly
“To those who deny the Holocaust, shame! Cease and desist!” Those were Ambassador Ashe’s powerful opening words. The resolution to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust was passed in the General Assembly eight years ago as a commitment by the international community to insure Never Again. This year’s theme, Journeys Through the Holocaust, highlights Steven Spielberg’s vision to tell survivors’ stories for future generations: about the transportation to the camps, the horrific human conditions in the camps, about those deprived of their lives and those who survived with their own mental and physical scars. Survivors’ stories have touched our collective hearts. John Ashe paid tribute to those who came to tell their stories and promised that none of us would forget them or those who died unable to tell stories.  It is a moral imperative that the international community never repeats these abhorrent crimes against humanity.
 
H.E. Mr. Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
Mr. Prosor is a charismatic leader and passionate speaker who never fails to touch his audience. He related how lucky his father was to flee Berlin before it was too late. During the holocaust, too many families were robbed of loved ones, of their dignity, of the fullness of their lives because so many others remained silent. The Ambassador too related some poignant stories.
He told of a young boy who prepared for his bar mitzvah in the camps with a small Torah scroll he was able to obtain. Today that boy is a renowned physicist in Israel and his Torah scroll, which survived with him in the camps, perished when it was one of the items Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon brought with him onboard Columbia, the mission which suffered a fatal reentry accident.
 
He told of 19 year old David Berger who escaped from Poland to Vilna and expressed the recurring fear that he’d die and be forgotten. He was killed because he was a Jew. In 1941, there was no Shield of David to defend him. To insure that David Berger was NOT forgotten, Mr. Prosor told us about him and his family.
Israelis today have a strong and vibrant society and understand that they can’t rely on others to defend them. Their watchwords are REMEMBER WITH ACTION. They are partners with the UN Education and Outreach Program to teach the world what happened during the Holocaust to try to insure that there will never be Silence and Indifference in the future, an ambitious expectation.  His closing words were Am Yisrael Chai!
 
Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN
Ambassador Power’s remarks took us back to January 27, 1939, before the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau to when Auschwitz was just a name of a Polish town.  The stark facts were that: on that day in 1939, the Polish Foreign Minister had returned from meetings in Germany to report that the Germans were unlikely to start a war; in Prague, Czech official returning from Germany were pressured by the Nazi Government to intensify discrimination against Czech and Slovak Jews; in Berlin that week, Hermann Goring established a Central Office for Jewish Emigration and in London, the British Government circulated a memo stating “there is as yet no reason to suppose Hitler has made up his mind “ about attacking his neighbors. But, on January 30, 1939, Hitler predicted that if a second world war were to come, the results would be the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. Seven months later, German troops crossed the Polish border and the world’s most devastating conflict began.
 
Ms. Power believes that this evidence suggests strongly that the Holocaust was not inevitable. The Shoah was not set in stone by the terms of the Versailles Treaty or by Hitler’s rise to power. What Hitler wanted was clearer than what he thought he could achieve but he was constantly planning and probing and the degree of resistance he might encounter.
 
If in early in 1939, Hitler had been confronted by a more united and determined world community, he might well have been stopped before he really began.
There is no parallel to the atrocities of the Holocaust but the world still continues to be shocked by the crimes against humanity. In October, the Security Council spoke with a united voice about the need for action to address the problems in Syria. The UN needs to live up to the purpose on which it was founded and Russia needs to use its influence to help the Syrian people in need of food and other necessities.
 
We must acknowledge that remembrance is the beginning and not the end of our responsibility to remember with honor both those who died and those who endured great suffering and survived.
 
Mrs. Rena Finder, Holocaust Survivor
Mrs. Finder was born in Krakow, Poland. After the German occupation, she and her family were relocated to a ghetto.  The Gestapo took her father away and she never saw him again. Rena and her mother went to work at a factory owned by Oscar Schindler. Rena and her mother were fortunate enough to be included in the famous “Schindler List” and they both survived. Rena was one of the many who Steven Spielberg’s Foundation interviewed. They remain friends to this day and Rena, now a US citizen, has gone on to speak to and educate a multitude of students on the Holocaust through her work with the organization Facing History and Ourselves.
 
The Bronx High School of Science’s Holocaust Museum and Study Center
The morning’s program ended with a presentation by four students from diverse backgrounds from the Bronx High School of Science.  The school’s holocaust museum was founded in 1978 and is one of the oldest study centers in the United States. They each shared the impact that having such a unique resource in the basement of their school has had on their own lives. By exploring artifacts and learning about the horrors of the Holocaust, they try to understand human nature and the consequences of extreme prejudice.  Their comments included the importance of learning from the past so genocide can and must be prevented.  They not only thought about the universal traits of evil, hatred and murder but about the universal traits of compassion, hope, bravery and faith.  The lessons learned also encourage them to preserve and cherish their own heritage.
 
The ceremony featured the 92nd Street Y’s Woodwind Quintet and Cantor Shmuel Barzilai of Vienna who chanted the memorial prayers.
 
 
“A Community Saved: The Rescue of Jews in Albania”
Briefing and Panel Discussion organized by B’nai B’rith International
and the permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations
27 January 2014
 
B’nai B’rith International organized this event as part of the organization’s mission to remember and teach about the Holocaust.  Albania proved to be a place of refuge for virtually its entire Jewish population and others who sought a safe haven there. Albania, a Muslim-majority nation, was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1943 and 1944.  In all, some 2000 Jews were rescued from genocide in this small, diverse country.
 
Albanian Ambassador to the United Nations H.E. Ferit Hoxha
The Ambassador shared Albania’s amazing story:
·         For five decades the events that happened in Albania during the Holocaust were unknown.  Only in the last 20 years after Communism fell has the story been told about Albania’s “gift to humanity”-the story of saving Jewish lives.  Unlike other holocaust stories this is one of courage, respect for the other and for love of humanity.
·         Albania has never had a history of anti-Semitism or bigotry.  Every Jew that lived or came for sanctuary was welcomed and protected.  By the end of the war, there were 10 times as many Jews as at the beginning.  Albania was the only country in Central Europe where there were more Jews at the end of the war than at the start.
·         No Jew was ever turned in to the Germans.  They had nothing to fear.  All Albanians felt this way with their deep sense of pride and honor to care for the other.  They made a “promise” to their “guests” which they faithfully and bravely kept.  “There were no Jews in their midst, only Albanians”.
 
Johanna Neumann, Holocaust survivor who is associated with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
 
·         Ms. Neumann was born in Hamburg, Germany and remembers many of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Her father had been in the German army during WW1. Until 1938, they had lived a comfortable life as German Jews. In 1939, they were unable to get around the quota system for entrance into the US. Hearing that King Zog of Albania welcomed anyone in who wished to settle in Albania, her parents were able to get visas and the family entered Albania where they were accepted with no questions asked.  They were treated as guests, the Albanian way with all people who entered their country. They moved around frequently, often renting from Muslim families. In 1939 and 1940, 85% of the Albanian population was Muslim. No matter what religion they practiced, no one ever denounced a single Jew.
·         In 1942 and 1943, Germany occupied Yugoslavia and Albania respectively. When Germany demanded that the Albanian government return the Yugoslavian Jews the Albanians allowed entrance into their country, Albania refused.  They hid them in homes and hospitals and not a single Yugoslavian Jew was returned. When the Germans demanded that all foreigners register at the SS office, the King’s response was “ We don’t know any Jews, only Albanians”.
·         Johanna and her mother survived the war by moving in with the Pilkus family, German Albanians, while her father was taken away and safely hidden from the Germans. Johanna Neumann thanked all the Albanians in the audience. She and her four children, 14 grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren are all here today because of the Albanians.
·         It is so important that Johanna’s story be told.  We were privileged to hear from others as well-all with the same outcome of safety and survival.
 
 
Film Screening “Blinky and Me”
29 January 2014
 
This documentary tells the life story of Yorman Gross, a Holocaust survivor and Australian animator. With his grandchildren, he recounts his experiences in hiding and escapes from the Nazis in Poland.  He created a popular series “Blinky Bill” whose encounters are based on his own childhood of running from the Nazis.  Viewers were led to reflect on the human tragedy of the Holocaust and the unrealized potential of those who were lost.
 
Two Special Exhibits were created
“A Remembrance of the Holocaust in Hungary:  70th Anniversary Exhibition”
This exhibit presents an historical account of the Holocaust in Hungary.
 
“When You Listen to a Witness, You become a Witness”
This exhibit documents the experiences of students while visiting former concentration camps.
 
New Educational Materials
 
A new film and educational package available to educators around the world has been developed. The DVD, The Path to Nazi Genocide, examines the Nazis’ rise and consolidation of power in Germany and explores their ideology, propaganda and persecution of Jews and other victims. It provides a concise overview of the Holocaust and those involved.  It’s intended to provoke reflection and discussion about the role of ordinary people, institutions and nations between 1918 and 1945.  The film is intended for adult viewers.