Every year on January 27 the world recognizes United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day, a date selected marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation and B’nai B’rith International was active throughout Latin America, commemorating this important day.
In Uruguay an exhibit on Anne Frank was created and inaugurated in Montevideo’s city hall, the capital and the country’s largest city. Uruguayan President José Mujica attended the event, addressing the audience and the entire nation in a speech broadcast on radio and television. Mujica’s remarks focused on the evils of the Shoah and the atrocities of genocide. Meanwhile, the General Assembly of Uruguay held a solemn session in which representatives of all parties addressed the legislature in commemoration of the Holocaust. B’nai B’rith, the overall Jewish community and the Ministry of Education also hosted an academic event titled “70 Years After Auschwitz was Closed” at Montevideo city hall.
With all the tensions swirling within Argentina following the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman—the man responsible for investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building that killed 85 and wounded 300—Holocaust Remembrance Day in Buenos Aires was extremely emotional. Typically the commemoration ceremony is organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Undersecretary of Human Rights, but amid the questions surrounding Nisman’s death all Jewish organizations declined to attend. B’nai B’rith has formally declined an invitation for the past two years following Argentina’s signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding” with Iran, an agreement which purports to investigate the terror attack.
Instead, a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the AMIA building. The commemoration was a crowded, emotional scene as Holocaust survivors were present and the AMIA president spoke on behalf of the Jewish organizations present. B’nai B’rith Argentina President Mario Wilhelm lit the fourth candle on the menorah on behalf of partisans and Jewish fighters who died while resisting the Nazis.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz addressed the audience, highlighting the government’s commitment to protecting minorities in Chile and the urgent need to reject all types of discrimination pervasive in society.
Executive Vice President of the National Institute of Human Rights and winner of the Light and Memory Award Lorena Fries also spoke, as did B’nai B’rith Chile President Emma Finkelstein.
In her remarks, Finkelstein discussed the main threats to Israel, Jews around the world and to Chile. She acknowledged the success of the Anti-Discrimination Act that was enacted last year, but regretted the fact that anti-Semitism was not explicitly included as a means of discrimination. Finkelstein also called for a bill seeking to establish hate speech as a crime and for the Holocaust to be included in the official curriculum of the Ministry of Education.
“On behalf of the Jewish community and as president of B’nai B’rith Chile,” Finkelstein said, “we know it is our obligation to raise our voice and condemn these actions that we hope will not be accepted by the international community. We owe it to the dead but, above all, we owe it to the living, to our children as well as to your children.”
In Brazil two ceremonies were held, including an interreligious ceremony with Christians and Muslims at the Congregação Israelita Paulista in São Paulo. The second ceremony was hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs at the Itamaraty Palace with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in attendance.
Unfortunately, a snow storm in New York City forced the postponement of B’nai B’rith International’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day program at the United Nations. This year’s program was to focus on Arturo Toscanini, one of the most renowned orchestral maestros of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Tuscanini was a staunch anti-fascist who publicly took a hard-line stance against the oppression and racism of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler and supported the establishment of the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic in 1936 in solidarity with young Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. The B’nai B’rith program was to be held in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations. The event will be rescheduled.