The arrival of Elie and Marion Wiesel was greeted with explosive applause by the German consular staff. Wiesel was led to the podium next to a window overlooking a breathtaking sunlit view of Manhattan with St. Patrick’s Cathedral nearby.
Touting the presentation of the medal as “a humble gesture of my country showing gratitude for your lifetime achievements and relentless efforts to keep the memory alive of the worst crime in all of history—the Shoah– against the Jewish people,” minister Steinmeier declared: “With this order of Merit we want to honor the writer, the philanthropist, historian, professor, the outstanding Mentsch that you are!” During the presentation Marion Wiesel never took her eyes off Elie.
“Thank you for your words of kindness,” responded a contemplative Wiesel. “To receive a medal of recognition from Germany is not a normal thing in my life,” he said softly.
“The past is here. The past is not absent from the present. We remember things that happened two thousand years ago as if they happened yesterday. Every day in our prayers we remember the good, we remember the bad. The choice, is always ours — ultimately.”
For 25 years, B'nai B'rith International has proudly served as the North American sponsor for the Yom Hashoah program "Unto Every Person There Is A Name."
While much of the coverage has centered on ceremonies in the United States, one very special ceremony took place on the steps of city hall in Montreal, Canada.
Read an excerpt of the story printed in The Suburban, and click through to the full story below:
B’nai Brith Canada held its annual ceremony on the steps of Montreal city hall Monday to remember the individual victims of the Holocaust.
Dignitaries, led by Montreal mayor Denis Coderre, read the names of the victims. Six candles representing the six million Jews killed by the Nazis were lit by St. Laurent councillor Maurice Cohen and Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand; Côte St. Luc councillors Dida Berku and Mitchell Brownstein; Hampstead mayor William Steinberg and wife Doris; Côte des Neiges/NDG mayor Russell Copeman and councillor Lionel Perez, and Pierrefonds-Roxboro mayor Jim Beis; Outremont councillor Mindy Pollak; and D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.
They, and Project Montréal leader Richard Bergeron, also read names.
Harvey Levine, Quebec regional director of B’nai Brith Canada, said the purpose of the ceremony is to make sure the victims of the Holocaust are never forgotten.
“We also recall all of the non-Jewish victims of the Nazis,” he added. “B’nai Brith commemorates ‘unto every person there is a name’ in the hope it will strengthen the memory and the bond between past and present intended to combat ignorance, indifference and denial of the Holocaust, and to unite the community to fight anti-Semitism and racism.”
On Yom Hashoah, hundreds gathered at the B'nai B'rith Martyrs' Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza in Jerusalem for a ceremony of remembrance. This year's focus was on rescue activities of Jonas Eckstein (1902-1971) who was an active member of the Jewish community and saved countless Jews from the atrocities of the Holocaust.
The gallery below is courtesy of B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem:
On Yom Hashoah, thousands of college students from hundreds of chapters of Alpha Epsilon Pi joined in the day of remembrance with recitations of the names of Holocaust victims and silent walks around campus.
These observances, created by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, honor more victims each year, as the project collects more names.
B’nai B’rith International observed Holocaust Remembrance Day with its annual program “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” now in its 25th year. B’nai B’rith is the official North American sponsor of the program under the auspices of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust Museum and research center in Jerusalem.
The gallery below is courtesy of B'nai B'rith Austin, AEPi at UT and Texas Hillel, who held their 24-hour ceremony at the foot of the iconic University of Texas Tower.
While attendance at these ceremonies on college campuses has grown dramatically in recent years, there are also adult communities that still participate in the Yom Hashoah recitation of names.
From the Detroit area chapter of B'nai B'rith International, a gallery from the Yom Hashoah ceremonies:
B'nai B'rith International World Center in Jerusalem was featured on Shalom TV Daily News for the commemoration ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day/Yom Hashoah.
The event took place at the B'nai B'rith Martyrs' Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza, and memorializes the Holocaust rescue activities of Jonas Eckstein (1902-1971), who was an active member of the Jewish community.
The story begins at the 1:28 mark in the video:
The following post is an excerpt from the op-ed piece that appeared in The Times of Israel, written by Alan Schneider, Director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.
Schneider discusses Yom Hashoah ceremony, commemorating the heroic efforts of Jonas Eckstein to save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
Schneider notes that while the Holocaust will remain one of the darkest hours of human history, it is time to focus on the stories of heroism that prevented further atrocities.
To read Schneider's full op-ed, click here:
Yona (Jonas) Eckstein (1902-1971) was an active member of the Jewish community in Bratislava and a successful wrestler in the “Hakoach” Jewish sport club there.
Through his sporting activities and vivacious personality Eckstein befriended city officials and police, and when the Jews of Bratislava were being rounded up for deportation in 1941, Eckstein was charged with providing food to Jews in the transit camps and was given the privilege of remaining in his own home.
But Eckstein did not take advantage of his relative freedom and good connections to escape to a safe heaven. Instead, he utilized them to facilitate rescue activities of fellow Jews that endangered himself and his family.
His diverse activity touched thousands of people over a period of two and half years, encompassing the clandestine delivery of food to hidden Jews along with information vital for their survival; hosting orphans from Poland and facilitating their conveyance to pre-state Israel via Hungary; hosting Jews who fled to Slovakia from Auschwitz; hosting and conveying Polish Jews to the then-relative safety of Hungary; and hiding Jews in bunkers – including one he dug under his own basement.
Eckstein was imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo and pressured by Jewish leaders to hand over hidden Jews. Many of the operations undertaken by Jonas Eckstein were done in the framework of the Jewish community and the “Working Group” headed by Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl and Gisi Fleischmann, but most of his activity was undertaken at his own initiative.
On the latest edition of Radio JAI, Eduardo Kohn, B'nai B'rith director of Latin American Affairs, discusses several important issues facing the continent's Jewish population.
Topics include: Yom Hashoah commemoration, ongoing anti-Semitism in Europe, the clear and present danger of anti-Semitism in Latin America and the danger that those who deny the Holocaust are those who are ready to commit genocide against the Jewish people.
Listen to the full podcast:
En 1944, alrededor de 400.000 judíos húngaros fueron deportados y asesinados por los nazis, pero con una importante colaboración de la población civil, cuyos descendientes son militantes del partido nazi húngaro (Jobbik). Esto ya había pasado en Francia en 1942, cuando los nazis habían llevado a los judíos al velódromo, en donde los hacinaron, y a los que sobrevivieron los enviaron a un tren hacia el exterminio.
Primo Levy consideraba que era posible "liquidar" a toda la humanidad, y argumentaba que una de las características del régimen nazi era la deshumanización del prisionero. Para este autor, los que actualmente consideran que el Holocuasto no existió "es porque quieren volver a hacerlo."
“Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heir-less,” the June 2009 declaration stated.
But five years on, progress on securing restitution has been painstakingly slow.
The lingering Euro Zone crisis has hampered efforts to get Eastern European countries to pass restitution legislation. The Terezin Declaration, while verbally bold, did not require any concrete commitments — or even the signatures of those countries present. Poland, the only European country occupied by the Nazis that has not enacted substantial private property restitution, did not even bother to show up for a follow-up conference in 2012.
In fact, since 2009, Lithuania has been the only country to enact substantial restitution legislation: a $53 million package announced in 2011, to be paid out over 10 years for communal property seized during the Holocaust.
“Most countries resist having to engage in restitution or compensation for lost property,” said Douglas Davidson, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust restitution issues.
The week before Passover, Davidson was in Zagreb with Jewish restitution leaders negotiating with Croatian government officials. Croatia is one of the few countries that negotiators say is holding serious restitution talks and where a deal is conceivable in the foreseeable future.
“They want to do it, they know they should do it, but their economy is in disastrous shape and by their reckoning it would cost them 1 billion euros to compensate for property that was nationalized by the communist regime in Yugoslavia after the war,” Davidson said.
In a bid to add some fuel to the campaign for restitution in countries that are dragging their feet, the World Jewish Restitution Organization is mounting a new effort to drum up public and political pressure within the European Union. In February, the group helped orchestrate a letter by 50 British parliamentarians to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pressing him on restitution.
“Unfortunately, Poland stands out in its failure to fulfill — or even recognize — its responsibility to victims,” said the letter, whose primary signatory was Baroness Ruth Deech. A Jewish member of the House of Lords, Deech had grandparents on both sides of her family who owned substantial property in Poland.
“Poland has a responsibility to elderly Holocaust survivors, their heirs and other victims to return property which was seized by the Nazis or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regimes,” the letter said. “Democratic Poland continues unjustly to benefit from the victims’ private property. Many of these victims and their heirs — both Jews and non-Jews — are British citizens.”
This month, British Foreign Secretary William Hague lent his support to the campaign.
“Europe is a partner that is as important and in some cases more important than the United States,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO’s chairman of operations. “Making this a multilateral issue is going to be the way we need to go if we really want to use the last few years survivors are with us.”
The Obama administration also is trying to strengthen restitution efforts, with Vice President Joe Biden reportedly raising the issue in private meetings with European leaders.
During the heyday of Holocaust restitution legislation in the 1990s, the newly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe viewed restitution as a way to curry favor with the West and improve their chances of gaining admission to NATO. Holocaust restitution often came up in U.S. Senate hearings on NATO membership, and it was during that era that several major restitution agreements were reached. The opening of state archives after the fall of the Iron Curtain helped keep a spotlight on the issue.
When Germany reunified in 1990, the restitution of East German properties once owned by Jews was a condition of the nation’s reunification agreement, and since then more than $3 billion in assets have been restituted.
Today, the main leverage for negotiators is the demand for justice, as well as the urgency of getting deals done before the last generation of survivors dies out.
“We had some leverage at a certain point in this process — the issue of countries coming into NATO or the EU — but that was accomplished in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, which is a member of the WJRO. “What we really are dependent on now is the moral imperative of the case, or the goodwill or lack of it by the governments involved, and on WJRO’s persuasive abilities. That’s a pretty challenging task.”
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