United Nations – Holocaust Programming

Sandy Koppell, Women’s League UN NGO

There were four days of most remarkable programming at the United Nations commemorating the Holocaust in January 2013. This program, an annual event begun in 2006, encourages awareness and reminds the world of the threat that genocide poses. The UN also disseminates information internationally. This year’s theme was “Rescue during the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.”

  • LOBBY EXHIBITS: “The World Knew – Jan Karski’s Mission for Humanity” and “Whoever Saves a Single Life – Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust”
  • SCREENING: “The Rescuers,” a documentary film, highlighted a dozen courageous individuals, including several diplomats, who defied the Nazis at great personal risk and helped save tens of thousands of Jews. Many of the rescuers suffered for their good deeds. One of the speakers, who was portrayed in the film, was rescued by Aristedes de Soussa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul in Bordeaux. The speaker was one of more than 1500 recipients of visas issued by de Soussa in defiance of his government.
  • The story of the Danish Jews was told. The Germans were more restrained at the beginning of their occupation of Denmark. As the Danes increased their resistance, the Nazis decided to deport the Jews. In one of the largest actions of collective resistance, the people of Denmark managed to help 7,000 Jews pass secretly into Sweden in ten days.
  • B’nai Brith International spoke of the Jewish Material Claims Conference, which works for restitution to Holocaust victims and their heirs. Many of the eastern European countries have made it almost impossible to claim restitution, putting unreasonable demands on the victims. Germany has been in the forefront of reaching out to aid needy survivors. Hungary also has set up a restitution fund. B’nai Brith will continue working for restitution.

At the conclusion of the program, a memorial ceremony was held in the General Assembly. There were video remarks by Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, as well as remarks by representatives from Israel, Sweden and the Congo. Professor Ethel Brooks, a sociologist at Rutgers University who is Romani, shared her perspective on the impact of Nazi terror on Roma and Sinti families. Professor Mordecai Paldiel of Yeshiva University, a former director of the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, marked the 50th anniversary of that program. Cantor Chaim Berson chanted the El Maleh Rachamin and Ani Ma’amim, and a string quartet performed music by composers who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Not only does the UN sponsor this program, but it also produces programs throughout the world to commemorate and educate all people about the Holocaust, so that genocide should not reoccur.