Today I attended the 2016 International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims Of The Holocaust at the United Nations headquarters in NY, which was profoundly moving. (More information is available at http://www.un.org/en/holocaustremembrance/2016/calendar2016.html.) The messages delivered by two survivors of the Holocaust, Marta Wise and Haim Roet, and a survivor of the Sinto who were also exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust, were suffused with unrelenting pain as these three elderly people recounted the last moments when they saw their loved ones. As the survivors spoke, their palpable pain filled the large rotunda of the UN General Assembly. The survivors , one who was seven years old at the time, the other ten, the third thirteen, recounted the experiences of these last minutes, the sensations and images of these last terrible moments, the texture of a father’s jacket, the image of sisters killed, raw and vivid in their minds after seventy years.
The messages delivered by Morgens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session
of the UN General Assembly, Samantha Power, the US permanent representative
to the UN, Szabolcz Takacs, from Hungary, Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and Felix Klein, from Germany, Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations, focused on the need for all of us to focus on our shared humanity, on the dignity of every human life and on joining our forces to fight for a better world. These messages are particularly poignant these days as somber shadows of brutal violations of human rights and barbaric acts of dehumanization are eclipsing the peace that has been forged in Europe and the movement towards democracy in other parts of the world that has been hoped for since World War II.
We should each take inspiration from the actions of people as Sir Nicolas Winton, an individual who was willing and able to act where ogranizations and governments were not, who by his actions and the actions of some brave helpers saved the lives of 869 Jewish children. His daughter, Barbara Winton, shared a snippet of a BBC show in which many of the children who had been saved by Sir Winton had been traced and reunited, and invited to the studio. Sir Winton found himself, unbeknownst to him, seated among some of the adults whose lives, as children, he saved. First the woman to his right told him she was one. Then the woman to his left told him she was one, too. Then the BBC commentator asked all those in the room to stand up if they had been among the children saved by Sir Winton, and as a whole the large group rose to its feet; the visual image of the lives that one man saved was an overwhelmingly powerful, positive proof of what an individual can make happen under the most dire of circumstances.