January 27, 2010

Holocaust Commemoration

Ban Kee Moon Opening the Exhibition at the United Nations

Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This day has been chosen by many countries, and by the United Nations, to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. To mark the occasion, the UN has orchestrated a series of events at the headquarters in New York. Last night, I attended the opening of a small exhibition created by Yad Vashem displaying architectural drawings of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. The Secretary General, himself, was present to open the exhibition, as were a number of other dignitaries.

I will admit that I believe that it is unfortunate that this date was selected for the commemoration since it could be interpreted as putting more emphasis on one kind of experience over another. Consider that by the time the gas chambers at Auschwitz were operational, the Germans had already murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews through shooting actions in the Soviet Union. Too often, the narrative of the Holocaust has ignored those whose experience had nothing to do with concentration camps.

That being said, it is extraordinary that the UN has undertaken to commemorate the Holocaust at all, and encouraging to reflect on the progress that has been made in Holocaust education and commemoration over the past decade. Ten yeas ago, forty-seven nations sent representatives (including a number of heads of state) to Stockholm to attend the Stockholm Forum. Emerging from that important meeting was the Stockholm Declaration, which set out certain principles that should guide nations in their pursuit of Holocaust commemoration and education. Acceptance of the principles of the Declaration became the basis for membership in the Task Force for Cooperation on Holocaust Education, remembrance, and Research. I was privileged to be present at the Stockholm Forum, and will always recall the tremendous impact it had on me.

The Washington Post published a disturbing article last Sunday about the questionable conduct of a suburban Washington Rabbi and Torah scribe who claims to have discovered a number of Torah scrolls that have dramatic and moving Holocaust-related stories. The article points out a number of inconsistencies that, when taken together, raise significant questions about the veracity of those stories and the conduct of the Rabbi. It is distressing to consider that someone -- especially a Rabbi -- should seek to mislead, and to profit, by spreading false stories about the Holocaust. One hopes that there is an explanation.