NEW YORK—Speaking in a voice fraught with emotion at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor proclaimed, “The loss [of the Holocaust] is unimaginable… the riches lost to the world untold. But, their spirit lives on, their dreams never died… Nothing can break the 5,000-year-old chain of Jewish history.”
Looking to his own emotions, Ron Prosor noted during the Jan. 25 ceremony that he is a father of the generation for whom it is “incomprehensible to comprehend what it meant to be a Jew in the face of evil” without the protection provided by the Jewish state.
Partisans and survivors, politicians, leaders of religions, and people of conscience joined together to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day this week in front of statues, at museums and memorials, and in the halls of the UN.
The UN in 2005 designated Jan. 27 as a yearly memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust—6 million Jews and millions of other victims of Nazi Germany during World War II. The date honors the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps.
On Sunday in Rome, the German-born Pope Benedict XVI, appearing at his window in the Vatican, called for vigilance against racism.
“The memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated, so that every form of hatred and racism is overcome, and that respect for, and dignity of, every human person is encouraged,” the Pope said of the Holocaust.
“Those who experienced the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence,” U.S. President Barack Obama said. “The United States, along with the international community, resolves to stand in the way of any tyrant or dictator who commits crimes against humanity, and stay true to the principle of ‘Never Again.’”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a clear link to Iran’s nuclear efforts and the Nazis’ efforts to annihilate the Jews.
“Anti-Semitism has not disappeared and—to our regret—neither has the desire to destroy a considerable part of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. They exist and they are strong,” Netanyahu said.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Israeli Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum’s “Righteous Among the Nations” recognition for gentiles who helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, greeting those gathered in memory of the victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 25, said “the examples of these brave men and women demonstrate the capacity of humankind for remarkable good even in the darkest days…”
Ban also stressed the need to “work against hatred and prejudice to prevent future genocide.”
Prosor at the UN acknowledged the sparks that lit humanity’s darkest hours—Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Italian construction worker Lorenzo Perrone, and the Japanese Consul in Lithuania, Sugihara, calling their actions “inspiring stories that must become guide posts for the international community… There is much work to do in a world… where hate is met with silence.”
The state of Israel is a living, breathing monument to survival, stated the ambassador. “Am Yisrael chai!” he extolled.
Also recognized was the courageous Irena Sandler, a Polish Catholic nurse who saved 2,500 children, and Eli Zborowski, who survived the war in hiding and was the driving force behind the creation of Yad VaShem’s Valley of the Communities as well as a founder of the American Society of Yad VaShem.
Mordecai Palodiel, a Holocaust survivor who spoke at the UN, was 6 years old when he and his family escaped to Switzerland. He was instrumental in gaining acknowledgement for the non-Jewish heroes who risked their lives to save at least one Jewish person. Palodiel helped develop the Garden of the Righteous. Fifty years after its initiation, some 25,000 names are inscribed in its stones, each representing a commitment to help others in need despite of the risk to themselves
“We have an obligation to pass on to future generations the legacy of the Righteous Among the Nations and the lesson of the spark of goodness the individual can arouse within himself,” he said.