By Inna Rogatchi, Times of Israel—
There are people among us who believe that the commemorative events on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a formality, in the best case, and ‘an utter hypocrisy’ in the opinions of few who refuse to co-hibit in their mind these annual international commemorations in the end of January with free reigning anti-Semitism on so many levels and in so many countries, the UN itself including.
I can see the origin of the point of this critique, but I do think that these two things should not be co-hibited. Anti-Semitism is an attitude, mind-set and practices which is as old, as mankind and its history itself. It would be accurate to say that anti-Semitism is a state of mind, a condition, a pattern of behaviour. Is somebody in its sober mind believes that one day we would live in a society that would be free of it? But it has to be criminalised as all hate-incitement has. And more – due to the Shoah.
The memory and commemoration is another thing. It is a stronghold of humanity. It is also pre-condition of dignity of every human being. Shall we refuse to commemorate suspecting a lip service and formality set up once a year with nothing more than pretension? I do not think so – on the back of my more than 25-years experience of the matter.
In commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust, I would give a benefit of doubt to many of the organisers of the special events every January anywhere in the world – as far, as they, both people and organisations, are known for their general decency.
I remember on how we were discussing the phenomenon of Oscar Schindler with our dear friend Simon Wiesenthal who knew Schindler personally and well. We were discussing a general phenomenon of ‘a good German’ during the WWII. Wiesenthal, with his vast experience on the matter, has told me: “Inna, Schindler is the one of the samples that demonstrates vividly that a person can change, is capable of changing”. I remember it always.
There is also such thing as mandatory teaching the truth about the Holocaust to those who does not necessarily keen to listen to it. The necessity of it did come to my mind when I was watching, once and again, a special episode in the first major post-WWII documentary, the one that Alfred Hitchcock had no nerve to complete.
There is all-telling episode on the German population that had been brought in, under the gun-point, by the raving soldiers of the British Army, to the concentration camp. The point there was to show to the ordinary Germans what has been committed in the Nazi camps. There was an endless column of house-wives, teenagers and everyone else who were made to come through the liberated camp. To have a look. In fact, they did not. They all were going through in the utter defiance and with appalling indifference. They did everything what they could in order not to see around them. And they did not. But still, they were brought on the scene of heinous crime as it should be the case. The British soldiers got it and did it absolutely right.
A Shock in Riga
Almost 60 years after the war, the exhibition of my husband Michael’s art work was brought to Riga, Latvia. It was a big general perspective of an artist, and it had been shown in parts at several prestigious places of the Latvian capital. Our hosts has propose to use also the hall of recently inaugurated posh and modern building of the City Council as the one of the venues. We agreed, having chosen for that part Michael’s works from his Jewish series and his Holocaust collection.
We were at the place along with the team of the professional company setting the exhibition; they were working very well. In the end of the day, the exposition was ready. Every now and then, the busily moving officials from the Riga city council did come closer, to have a look. Initially they were all smile. Then the atmosphere has changed radically.
When the exposition was ready, the scenes around us were as if from a theatrical performance: on the stairs, in the hall around the exposition, the people who were working at the city council of Riga has become stunned, literally.They stopped in complete silence looking stupefied.They did not know what to think. They were gapping in total silence. Among them, were some angry faces. Nobody utter a word.
Then an energetic American voice appeared as if from nowhere: “Oh, how wonderful! What a fantastic works! It is just incredible! Are you the artist?” – the first visitors of the exhibition came a day before the opening, as they have learned about it, but were leaving the next morning, so they excused themselves for coming a bit too early being very happy to catch the artist himself there and to talk with him. The residents of the city council building reluctantly disappeared. We have a little doubt that they were shocked by the fact that ‘these kind of paintings’ would be exhibited at their premises for a good month.
In the evening, there was the official opening of the exhibition, with very many guests and participants, many of them representative of the Latvian intellectuals, some of the Jewish. I would never forget the faces of those people who were looking on Michael’s work depicting the Biblical heroes and the standing memory of the Shoah. They were staying dangerously close to the works in total awe. They were speechless too, for another reason.
Then they spoke. They, the one after another, did come to us to thank us and to say: “You just cannot imagine what does it mean for us, to seeing these works in this place, in the heart of the capital, and in the command-centre of the power here. It is incredible. It is unbelievable. It is so paramountly important. We thought, we were sure that we would never live to seeing the day like that. Let them see it. Let them all see it. Let them think”.
Was it worth to bring the exhibition of this sort to the place which had been not that suitable for it, to put it mildly? Absolutely. I do remember the faces of the people who were thanking us, but yet more vividly I do remember those stunned faces of those who in their worst nightmares did not expect to see the Holocaust-related images in the centre of the Riga City Hall. Let them see. And think.
Let them know that our voice, the voice of those who are consciously keeping the memory of our people will not be silenced. That it would sound in the midst even of those audiences that not necessarily ready or willing to hear it. Humanity is not for retreats. Humanity is for advance and even for fighting if necessary.
The Contrast of Attitudes
For me, there are two criteria for participating in the events commemorating the Holocaust internationally: sincerity and respect. Some people might not be aware enough with the facts that resonates with Jewish people all 75 years since the crime of the Shoah, but if they are sincere in their empathy, it is absolutely worthy to share the stage of our memory with them. They will learn.
I saw it many times during the last more than 25 years that I am busy with the various commemorations of the Holocaust, both in January and in April on Yom Ha- Shoah, in many countries. If there is the respect towards the tragedy, then it marks the commemorations in the right way. It stays in memory for good, and it teaches everyone present one more step towards the light.
In the beginning of the commemorations organised by and at the European Union, the atmosphere was good and many words by participants did count. These times are gone, and now there are posh events which are empty and cold, to me, not surprisingly, given who are the people who are leading the foreign policy at the European Union machinery today, those pro-Iranian appeasers and sworn enemies of Israel. The efforts of the organisers for whom Holocaust has the meaning objectively, cannot overcome the general hostility of the EU today.
And then we are witnessing also such pervert ‘commemorations’ as it is happening in Poland today under its current government of inflamed revisionists of history, with ultra-nationalists demonstrations – and its slogans, ‘to deal with Jews and to kick them out of the country” just in front of Auschwitz at the day of commemorative ceremony there.The same ceremony where the present dignitaries have learned from the Polish uneducable prime-minister that “The Holocaust was not carried out by Nazis, but by Hitler’s Germany”. This man has to be taken accountable for what he declares publicly by the only means that the persons of his sort ought to be dealt with, legal ones. Under this government, their so-called ‘commemorations’ they can happily keep for themselves. They delude no one with their lunacy.
This year, we have participated also in the special commemorative event in Finland organised by the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association. It was exceptional. The best possible venue provided by the Prime Minister office, completely full, with not a single person coming because of formal reasons. Not a single formal speech among so many that our guest-speaker Dr Noa Kayton representing Yad Vashem did ask me: “Is it always so many Ambassadors are speaking at your events?” – “No, Noa, this year we have threesome of the Ambassadorial speeches as all of them were willing to speak” – I replied.
The overcrowded parade hall of the ceremonial Finnish House of Estate have heard among many speeches of the Ambassadors of Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Finnish minister for Interior and many representatives, so very good, honest, thoughtful, and personal speeches by the Ambassadors of Austria HE Maximillian Henning and Ambassador of Italy HE Gabriele Altana, and powerful speech by the Israeli Ambassador, the son of the Holocaust survivors Dov Segev-Steinberg. We all were treated by gentle and beautiful and so very sad music masterly played by Baro Baht Ensemble of the Roma musicians, and we were very glad to see how thoughtful and sincere were the youngest soloists of the ensemble, the young teenagers.
Quiet, meaningful, thoughtful respect had filled the ceremonial palace in the middle of windy and cold Helsinki. Understanding and attention, meaning and memory were experienced by everyone present. This is what I call commemoration. No pretension, no false. Real tears, real respect. Decency. It will not disappear. It goes into the people’s mind and their sub-consciousness. And I was especially glad to see quite many young people in the audience.
A couple of hours before the noon in New York, I have got the email from a dear friend, great Marian Turski. “ Imagine that I am writing this e-mail From New York: the Secretary General of the UN has invited me to speak at the special session of the UN on behalf of the International Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust”. Of course, I can imagine the Secretary General invitation: Marian Turski is a giant on the global stage of the memory of the Holocaust. He is the vice-chairman, and formerly many years Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Prisoners Association, vice-chairman of the legendary and utterly important Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, long-termed former chairman of the Association of the Lost Children of the Holocaust, chairman of the exemplary POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. He is a brilliant writer who attracts the great scores of readers for about 70 years. He is the one of the sharpest minds I know in general, too.
The 93-year old Marian flew to New York from Warsaw to speak on the podium of the UN on their – and the world leading – commemorative event on the Holocaust on January 28, 2019. Our dear friend is in a good form, thanks G-d, and he looks great as ever. And then he started to speak. Marian’s speech is at 1:00:48 mark of the video from the event presented in my story. It is a phenomenal speech. I highly recommend to watch and to listen it to everyone. Every word of it. Every sentence. And that long silence of the man who survived Auschwitz, Buchenwald and two Death Marches being just 19 in the end of the war.
I have heard many speeches of Marian Turski in my life, luckily. He never repeats himself. In his most recent speech at the podium of the United Nations, he was speaking, mostly eloquently and brilliantly, on the worst thing under the Nazi regime. I would not repeat his great speech – it is here for you to hear it. I just say that it was a speech of an exemplary Jewish Man, with the best virtues of our nation: it is dignity, its freedom, the might of its heart and courage of its heart. Marian Turski have made proud millions of Jews anywhere in the world with his speech at the United Nations.
Marian’s speech and the speech of a formidable Danny Dannon whom Israel has a special luck to have as the state’s representative at the UN, and probably would have yet bigger luck if Danny would return to the Israel domestic politics, did place everything in the proper place with a mighty, naturally-born precision. The precision which is the result of our history, the history of the Jewish nation. The history that produced the best phenomenon of all: when the victims of the world’s hatred, both in the past and in the present, are freer and mightier than their oppressors. This happens, rarely, and it is known phenomenon from the times of Masada.