Holocaust commemorations at the United Nations – a report by Gloria Landy

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Gloria Landy is the Masorti Olami/World Council of Synagogues representative to the United Nation’s Forum of NGOs. She braved the snow in New York City at the end of January to take part in a week of activities connected to the International Day of commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust. She sent us this report.

January 27th, 2010 was the fifth anniversary of this International Commemoration Day, and this year’s theme was “Remembrance: the Legacy of Survival.  

On Monday, January 25th, the Commemoration opened with a Reception by the UK Holocaust Centre, the San Diego Jewish Cultural Centre and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  A family of three generations headed by Shoah Survivors gave compelling testimonies of how they were able to survive and thrive with the promise of inspiring their children and grandchildren and future generations to carry on their traditions and beliefs and wisdom.

On Tuesday, January 26th a Reception, sponsored by Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, emphasized that Auschwitz-Birkenau was engineered for the destruction of European Jewry.  Blueprints of the complex were displayed and a concurrent exhibition was unveiled at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Secretary-General Ban ki Moon opened the exhibit and condemned the Nazis and their collaborators. The event was Chaired by Under Secretary General to the United Nations, Kiyo Akasaka, of the Department of Public Information.  Addresses were given by Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gabriella Shalev, Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora, and the United States Representative to ECOSOC.  Minister Edelstein spoke of the planned and efficient way the Nazis destroyed lives.  He also talked about Israel’s massive effort to help the Haitian people after the tragedy of the Earthquake.

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From the exhibit:  “Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints” 
The aim of the exhibition is to emphasize that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the concentration and extermination camp which became known worldwide as the insignia of human evil, was engineered for the destruction of European Jewry. The Auschwitz camp complex was the largest and most important extermination complex built by Nazi Germany. During the period of its operation between June 1940 and January 1945, the Germans murdered more than a million people on site, most of whom were Jews.  
The exhibition was curated and produced by Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority and sponsored by the American & International Societies for Yad Vashem.

Below: Pictures from the event and the exhibition, including Gloria Landy (top right picture, standing furthest to the right). Pictures courtesy of David Vaughan Photography & USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.
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On the afternoon of January 27th B’nai Brith International and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations presented a Panel Discussion of “Interreligious Responses to the Holocaust: 65 Years after Liberation”.  Participants included H.E.Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church, a native of Salonika where almost all Jews were murdered by the Nazis after a 2,200 year old history where they had full integration in Salonika’s society; Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches, who stated that “Christians have distorted ‘love thy neighbor’. Neighbors need to have a common humanity”; Rev. Bishop Gerald Walsh, Archdiocese of New York stated that “We must focus on what unites us, not divides us. We must oppose terrorism disguised behind a mask of religion.”
UN_sessionOn the evening of January 27th the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony and Concert opening with a message from Secretary General of the United Nations Ban ki Moon and remarks by a Representative of the President of the General Assembly, as well as H.E. Ambassador Peter Witig, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations who spoke of the new and close relationship between Germany and Israel today.  H.E. Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora spoke of the impending danger of another Holocaust caused by Iran and its nuclear capabilities and how the world must act to prevent it.  He said, “the difference is we now have the State of Israel and Israel has the right to defend herself”.

The Nuremberg Philmaronic, the Bayreuth Zamir Choir, and the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir performed selections by Brahms and Beethoven.  It was the world premiere of a work by the Conductor and composer Isaak Tavior entitled “The Last Days to Come” which incorporated music with spoken prophetic verses from the Torah which referred to the rebirth of Israel.

Cantor Zev Muller chanted the Ani Ma’amim and El Maleh Rachamim and Professor Nechama Tec, author of Defiance and other books, gave the keynote speaker.

A special United Nations and Department of Public Information Briefing, In Observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust was held on Thursday morning, January 28th.  It was on “The Moroccan Jews and Their Legacy of Survival”. King Mohammed V and later King Hassan II resisted the colonial anti-semitic policies imposed upon Moroccan Jews by the Vichy regime of German-occupied France.  The present King Mohammed VI of Morocco is the grandson of King Hassan II.

The concluding event of this very special week was sponsored by the Mission of the United States to the United Nations and was the showing of the film ‘Defiance’.  The film was produced by Paramount Pictures and provides a stark contrast to many WWII movies portraying all Jews as helpless victims.  The ability of these survivors to form a caring community and fight for their futures was exciting and meaningful.

Respectfully,
Gloria Landy.