In introductory remarks, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination Fabrizio Hochschild, of Chile, spoke about his Jewish late grandfather’s little-known efforts, from Bolivia, to save thousands of Jewish refugees by helping them immigrate to that country.
This morning’s posthumous honoree, Grunhut, was an Orthodox businessman and leader in several Jewish organizations in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia. He began his rescue activities in 1938, when he participated in saving Jewish refugees sent to Hungary from Austria. At the same time, he had a tent camp built for stateless Jews in Slovakia, and organized their journey to the British mandate of Palestine. In 1939, he further chartered two steam boats to smuggle 1,365 Jews from Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Austria to pre-state Israel.
Grunhut was arrested in Slovakia in 1943 for his activity in the resistance. After his release, he joined his wife and young son, who were hidden under false identities, in Hungary. From a hiding place, Grunhut contacted the Hungarian underground and financed the smuggling of Jewish refugees by train from Budapest to Damascus, saving another 300 children. He himself found refuge in the basement of the former Czechoslovakian embassy in Budapest, living there with his wife and son until the end of the war. The family returned to Bratislava after the war, but left for Israel in 1948.
B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman welcomed Grunhut’s granddaughter, Yael Goren, who accepted the rescuer’s award on behalf of Benny Goren, her father, now a resident of Florida.
“We have gathered to focus on a unique, important and largely overlooked aspect of the history of the Holocaust. While for decades significant attention was justly focused on acknowledging and honoring non-Jews who heroically helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust — many of them are recognized by Israel’s national Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem, as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ — there has been far less awareness of Jews who, frequently enduring the most trying and precarious of circumstances themselves, took the initiative and risk to aid others facing Nazi persecution and mass murder,” Saltzman said.
B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider and Haim Roet, chairman of the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews during the Holocaust, also spoke at the event by phone from Israel. They discussed the history of the citation and why such recognition of Jewish rescue is necessary.
Goren spoke of Jew’s courageous efforts to save Jews.
“My grandfather, though many times he was the leading force behind his deeds, could not act alone. He had to have the support of other Jewish fighters and this is what they were, even if they didn’t carry a weapon. They put theirs and their dear ones’ lives at risk — at a higher risk — when it was risky enough just to be Jewish — selfless and fearless against all odds to save other people, other fellow Jews. My father would then celebrate his 90th birthday in just of a couple weeks, couldn’t be here today. I’m here on behalf of my father that would have been here on behalf of his father. Those that were younger kids during the war are now at least in their 80s. We have very limited time to make sure that all of these unknown brave stories are told and documented before we won’t have [anyone] to ask anymore,” Goren said.
B’nai B’rith’s program preceded the official U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony — addressed by the body’s secretary-general, Antonio Guterres — which leaders of the organization also attended. B’nai B’rith played an active role in the United Nations’ adoption of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. Last week, Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels, in remarks on a U.N. panel, detailed many of B’nai B’rith’s efforts to commemorate the Holocaust, promote diversity and combat hatred around the globe.
Michaels said: “My organization was founded as a pioneer of civil-society humanitarianism by German Jewish immigrants in this city 175 years ago — a century before their peers and relatives would experience the culmination of unthinkable anti-Semitism and inhumanity in the Holocaust. And in the ashes of the Holocaust, my organization helped lead Jewish communal engagement in San Francisco in 1945 in the founding of the United Nations, as we have in the life of the U.N. ever since. And notwithstanding the well-known and real strains that have since emerged in this relationship, this engagement has reflected profound Jewish aspiration to see this body fulfill the vision of peace inscribed on the Isaiah Wall across the street from here.”
He concluded: “Vigilance and concrete action against all forms of bigotry remain critical at a time of resurgent Nazi-glorification in parts of Central Europe and elsewhere, of the rise of so-called racial nationalists in the United States, and of persistent Holocaust-denial and demonization of Jews across much of the Middle East.”
To view last week’s U.N. panel on the lessons of the Holocaust, click here.
To view today’s B’nai B’rith program on Jewish rescuers, click here.