B’nai B’rith International sponsored and participated in Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations across Latin America in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela during January and into February.
On Feb. 4, B’nai B’rith Argentina took part in a commemoration ceremony chaired by Minister of Education Alberto Sileoni, Minister of Justice and Human Rights Julio Alak and other government figures. The top Jewish community leadership participated in the event as well, including B’nai B’rith Argentina President Mario Wilhelm and the chairman of a survivors of the Holocaust organization in Argentina.
Argentina is the only Latin American country that is a member of the International Task Force for Education and Remembrance of the Shoah.
Argentine Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Religions Guillermo Olivieri spoke at the event, saying that those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi era had “a very special and remarkable concept of ethics.” He also commented on Holocaust deniers, saying it is “completely unacceptable to deny the Holocaust, the largest and most heinous crime in the 20th century.”
On Jan. 30, a commemoration ceremony was held in Brasilia, Brazil. In what is now an annual tradition the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff addressed the crowd. The tradition was started by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who began speaking at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Brazil, when International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations.
The event posthumously honored two Brazilian diplomats who saved Jews during the Shoah. Souza Dantas, a Brazilian ambassador to France, and Aracy Guimarães Rosa, an officer at the Brazilian Consulate in Hamburg, both gave visas to Jews to escape death in Europe and flee to Brazil. Their relatives were present at the ceremony.
On Jan. 31, B’nai B’rith Uruguay took part in a special ceremony held at the Permanent Parliament Commission of Uruguay to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. The audience included government ministers, legislators, the ambassadors from Israel, the United States and Germany, and Jewish community leadership.
Several legislators spoke on behalf of their parties, emphasizing tolerance, respect for others’ religions and traditions and the importance of education so such a catastrophe is never repeated.
In Chile, a remembrance ceremony sponsored by B’nai B’rith and conducted by B’nai B’rith Chile Executive Director Mario Sadovnik, was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Santiago, with ministers, parliament members, ambassadors, civilian, religious and military authorities, survivors and their families in attendance.
President of B’nai B’rith Chile Eduardo Weinstein discussed the main threats to Israel, Jews of the world and Chile. Weinstein spoke about the Anti-Discrimination Act that was enacted last year in Chile, but expressed his disappointment with the fact that anti-Semitism was not explicitly included in the definition of discrimination. He also called for legislation that would establish hate speech as a crime as well as the inclusion of the Holocaust in the official Ministry of Education curriculum.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno also addressed the government’s commitment to assisting minorities and the rejection of all types of discrimination.
In Mexico, B’nai B’rith Honorary President Moishe Smith, B’nai B’rith Mexico leader Dan Tartakowski and B’nai B’rith Director of Latin America Affairs Eduardo Kohn all participated in a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies held at the Mexican Congress and the U.N. Hall. After the ceremonies, the leaders met with B’nai B’rith members in their newly renovated facilities to discuss the work of the organization in Latin America and plans to have the Argentine prosecutor in the AMIA bombing case, Albert Nisman, visit Mexico.
Additionally, the congresses of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Panama and Peru commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, also sponsored by the countries’ respective branches of B’nai B’rith. At each commemoration, members of the Jewish community participated in the ceremonies.
On Feb. 3, B’nai B’rith Venezuela cosponsored a concert to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Jewish community in Cuba hosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day event that B’nai B’rith cosponsored. In Guatemala, B’nai B’rith also cosponsored a Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Israel Square in Guatemala City.
Since 2006, B’nai B’rith Latin America has conducted and sponsored Holocaust remembrance programs to teach society outside the Jewish community about the Holocaust. Due in part to B’nai B’rith’s efforts such programs have gained national and regional prominence.