Holocaust Victims Honored at UN Remembrance Day
by Florence Denmark, PhD
Main APA Representative at the United Nations
In 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided that January 27th would mark an annual day of international commemoration to honor victims of the Holocaust victims. January 27th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
This year the UN held an outreach program entitled, “Holocaust and the United Nations” that addressed the use of educational programs for promoting remembrance. Experts discussed methods for passing on the lessons of the Holocaust as a preventative measure against genocide. Established by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, the program urges member states to develop educational activities of their own. As part of this the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) has developed a range of activities to promote awareness. Academic papers, discussions, films, informational materials, and presentations with partner organizations, were among the many initiatives carried out, each with a goal of reminding us of the devastation and threat caused by crimes against humanity.
Because January 27th fell on a Monday, activities were spread throughout the week, beginning on January 28th. An exhibit, of the Gennady Dobrov Art Exhibition, “Memorial Drawings: Remembering the Holocaust Victims and their Liberators,” in one of the conference rooms of the secretariat building, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, remained on exhibit through January 31st 2008 and helped form the context for events of the week. Monday, January 28th began with the launch of Holocaust Remembrance Postal Stamps, a series of 41-cent US stamps, designed by the UN, commemorating the January 27 Holocaust Remembrance Day. The launch ceremony was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, organized by the United Nations Postal Administration, in part with the Philatelic Service of Israel.
A film screening Of “Holocaust Education in Action” followed the stamp launch and was followed with a panel lead by B’nai B’rith International. The discussion was moderated by Eric Falt, director of the Outreach Division of UNDIP; along with Helene-Marie Gosselin, director of UNESCO in New York; and Sandra Roberts, the director and a teacher of the Paper Clips Project, a program that began as a small 8th project in a small Tennessee town and now includes a memorial with 11 million paperclips, representing lives lost in the Holocaust, and a film (see http://www.paperclipsmovie.com/synopsis.php). A student from Whitwell Middle School, where the Paper Clips Project began, was also present for this discussion. The day ended with a key note address by US Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust Survivor, on “Civic Responsibility and the Preservation of Democratic Values.” The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra from Tel Aviv University, and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Zubin Mehta, played a concert at this event.
The following day, January 29th, began with a briefing from Dr. Rob Rozett on, “Rescue during the Holocaust: Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary.” The evening program celebrated the opening of two exhibits commending the supporters of Jews during the Holocaust. The Department of Public Information, Yad Vashem and the Permanent Mission of Albania to the United Nations, sponsored “BESA: A Code of Honor, Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust.” The Department of Public Information also co-sponsored a program entitled “Carl Lutz and the Legendary Glass House in Budapest,” along with the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and Hungary to the United Nations.
On the evening of Wednesday, the 30th, the Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Programme unveiled the opening of the Permanent Holocaust Exhibit, located on the grounds of the UN, as a memorial for all visitors to reflect upon. The remembrance week came to a close on Thursday, January 31st, with a screening of the documentary, “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.” The film’s producer, Deborah Oppenheimer, was present for the viewing.
This memorial week was a powerful expression of determination to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. It was successful as both a reminder of past crimes against humanity and as a proactive force for educating against such offenses in the future.