Wednesday, January 27, 2010

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The General Assembly Resolution 60/7

The Resolution 60/7 establishing 27 January as an International Holocaust Remembrance Day urges every member nation of the U.N. to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief. It also calls for actively preserving the Holocaust sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps and prisons, as well as for establishing a U.N. programme of outreach and mobilization of civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education.

The essence of the text lies in its two-folded approach: one that deals with the memory and remembrance of those who were massacred during the Holocaust, and the other with educating future generations of its horrors.

This day, this year, marks 65 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Berkenau. Since 27th January was designated Holocaust Remembrance/Memorial Day, each year has a different theme. This year it is Legacy of Hope.

HMD 2010 The Legacy of Hope

27th January 2010 – Holocaust Memorial Day – marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this day, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is challenging everyone across the UK to become part of a Legacy of Hope. HMD 2010 offers an opportunity to listen to the voices from the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, and to make the lessons of hope for a safer, inclusive society where the differences between us are respected a reality today and in the future.

Holocaust survivors have played an immense role in bringing our attention to the lessons of the Holocaust. They speak of pain and loss, of strength and survival, of despair and their wish for a Legacy of Hope. They encourage us to look within and without, to be sure of our moral compass, to be certain of our choices and to use our voice, whenever we can, to speak out. They have translated difficult experiences to create a future that is free from the dangers of exclusion and persecution. They have passed a message of resilience and hope to the next generation.

Our responsibility is to remember those who were persecuted and murdered, because their lives were wasted...(read more here)

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week signed the Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment at Number 10. As he signed, two very special men witnessed this event, as they each - in different ways - bear witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust:

Friday 22 January 2010

POW’s Auschwitz story gives hope for the future - PM

The Prime Minister has described former British Prisoner of War at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Denis Avey, as a truly remarkable man, after meeting him in the run up to Holocaust Memorial Day. Denis Avey helped a Jewish prisoner survive the camp by swapping clothes with him and taking his place in the camp on two separate occasions, allowing the Jewish prisoner to receive vital food and rest in the British camp.

Mr Brown and his wife Sarah welcomed Mr Avey along with Holocaust Survivor Ben Helfgott MBE, Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Lord Janner, and two student ambassadors to Downing Street.

PM signs Book of Commitment; Crown copyright

Gordon Brown said:

“As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the horrors of the past, it is people like Denis Avey and his extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion for others, that give us hope for the future.

“His story is even more poignant on this, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau; a reminder of the unimaginable cruelty faced by those held there and why we must continue to fight persecution and intolerance wherever it is found.” (here)

Mr Avey's story is truly amazing:

The man who smuggled himself into Auschwitz

Children in Auschwitz
More than a million people died in Auschwitz
By Rob Broomby
BBC News

When millions would have done anything to get out, one remarkable British soldier smuggled himself into Auschwitz to witness the horror so he could tell others the truth.

Denis Avey is a remarkable man by any measure. A courageous and determined soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a camp connected to the Germans' largest concentration camp, Auschwitz.

But his actions while in the camp - which he has never spoken about until now - are truly extraordinary. When millions would have done anything to get out, Mr Avey repeatedly smuggled himself into the camp.

Now 91 and living in Derbyshire, he says he wanted to witness what was going on inside and find out the truth about the gas chambers, so he could tell others. He knows he took "a hell of a chance".

"When you think about it in today's environment it is ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous," he says.

"You wouldn't think anyone would think or do that, but that is how I was. I had red hair and a temperament to match. Nothing would stop me."

He arranged to swap for one night at a time with a Jewish inmate he had come to trust. He exchanged his uniform for the filthy, stripy garments the man had to wear. For the Auschwitz inmate it meant valuable food and rest in the British camp, while for Denis it was a chance to gather facts on the inside.


He describes Auschwitz as "hell on earth" and says he would lie awake at night listening to the ramblings and screams of prisoners...

Go over to the BBC site here, watch the video interview with Mr Avey, and read more of what he has to say. A hero in any sense of the word.

Ben Holfgott is now a MBE, but the story of his early life has been well documented. uas the Nazi brutality accelerated with murder, violence and terror.

The children of Holocaust

...Ben Helfgott was sent to a labor camp but miraculously survived. He was weak and emaciated when he was liberated from the camp Theresienstadt at the close of the war in 1945, 15 years old.

Together with some hundreds of youngsters he was sent to England. Soon, in London, he took up weight lifting and Ben Helfgott is the only known survivor of a Nazi concentration camp to compete in the Olympic Games.

Within a few years, he was winning local championships and becoming British middleweight weightlifting champion and record holder. He captained the British Olympic Weightlifting Teams of 1956 and 1960.

Ben Helfgott went to university to study economics, married, had three boys and ended up in business: today he is a retired clothing manufacturer.

Memorial to the martyrs of Piotrkow murdered in the Rakow ForestIn 1995 he was elected to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honors Jewish men and women worldwide who have accomplished extraordinary achievements in sports and those who have made significant contributions to society through sports.

Desiring to help the young men and women who had come with him from the hell of Europe, Ben Helfgott decided to devote himself entirely to their welfare. Founder of ’45 Aid Society for Holocaust Survivors in UK, Chairman 1963-1970, 1970-present. Chairman of Yad Vashem Committee of Board of Deputies of British Jews. Former Chairman, Central British Fund-World Jewish Relief. Member, Council of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Ben Helfgott noted in a speech in 1976:

'We have shown that the misery, cruelty, despair and injustice that were inflicted on us did not break our indomitable will. It did not consume us with hatred to the point of destroying our own and other peoples' lives. Instead we set out to create a new life.'

There is much more about Mr Helfgott (and other stories) on an official Auschwitz site here.

The Guardian of London has an in-depth interview with Mr Helfgott. A very brief excerpt:
Memories of the Holocaust: Ben Helfgott
Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian
27th January, 2010

'Ben Helfgott, Holocaust survivor


What does Ben ­remember of those camps? "We didn't have any mirrors," he says. "So you thought it was the others who looked terrible, that you didn't have the ­swollen eyes and deep sockets that come from starvation." He remembers sharing a 2ft 6in-wide bunk with another boy. "There wasn't enough room to sleep on our backs. If you wanted to move in bed, you had to move together. So we lay there, eaten by bugs and lice, packed like sardines."

Ben was finally liberated in ­Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia in May 1945. He then learned that his ­father had been shot a few days earlier as he tried to escape from a death march that was headed to Theresien­stadt. "I was suddenly an orphan. I had heard that my mother and little sister were killed two-and-a-half years before when I was still with my father and my sister Mala. We were able to comfort each other. When I heard what ­happened to my father, I was alone. Theresienstadt was where I did all my crying. I cried for 24 hours." His father was 38 when he was killed....

Go to the Guardian - here - and read the rest of his story. While there, also check out the links to other Holocaust survivors' stories.

This day IS an international remembrance of those terrible days in our human history. In the US, there is the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy. [1]

With an operating budget of just under $78.7 million ($47.3 million from Federal sources and $31.4 million from private donations) in 2008, the Museum has a staff of about 400 employees, 125 contractors, 650 volunteers, 91 Holocaust survivors, and 175,000 members. It has local offices in New York, Boston, Boca Raton, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas. [2]

Since its dedication on April 22, 1993, the Museum has welcomed nearly 30 million visitors, including more than 8 million school children. It has also welcomed 88 heads of state and more than 3,500 foreign officials from over 132 countries. The Museum's visitors come from all over the world, and more than 90 percent of the Museum's visitors are not Jewish. Its website had 25 million visits in 2008 from an average of 100 different countries daily. 35% of these visits were from outside the United States, including more than 238,000 visits from Muslim-majority countries. [3]

The USHMM’s collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 hour of archival footage, 84,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonies. It also has teacher fellows in every state in the United States and has welcomed almost 400 university fellows from 26 countries since 1994. [4] (Read more here )

To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum hosts a candle-lighting ceremony attended by the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, Holocaust survivors, and the general public...

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Join us in observing International Holocaust Remembrance day by lighting a candle and adding your name to the list of people who are showing their support for international recognition of the day.

If you go here, you can add your name to the list of those who remember. That is a direct link to the US Holocaust Museum's page of remembrance. The home page is here, and is well worth the time to explore all the different sections.

As the official page of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust says(in part):

HMD provides a time for us to:

  • Remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and those affected by subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and during the ongoing atrocities in Darfur.
  • Ensure that the historical events associated with the Holocaust continue to be regarded as being of fundamental importance.
Raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust... (more here)

One of the comments on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum says, succinctly:

We must never forget, and we must teach our children so they never forget.


And that IS the truth. It is said that those who forget history, are doomed to repeat it. We are today living in a time of global terrorism threats. As some choose to remain oblivious to the evil again stalking our world, we would be beyond foolish to forget - or ignore - the terrible price paid by so many during the Holocaust of 60+ years ago.

Ever vigilant.

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