Jewish Leaders Announce Launch of World Forum for Russian Jewry
Hundreds of people – Russian and Ukrainian Jews of all ages, Jewish veterans of the Soviet army, young Lubavitcher Chassidim connecting with the history of their sect’s native region – packed a large conference room at the United Nations on January 25th to pay solemn tribute to the victims of the infamous Babi Yar massacre on the occasion of the grim event’s 70th anniversary. Part of an annual week of Holocaust commemoration events at the UN, the conference, which was organized by the American Forum of Russian Jewry with the support of the Permanent Missions of Ukraine and Israel to the United Nations, featured numerous speakers recalling the horrors of September 29 and 30, 1941. Over that two-day period, a shocking total of 33,771 Jews were ruthlessly murdered by Nazi invaders in the Kiev ravine, in what is recognized as the single worst massacre of the Holocaust.
The event’s mood was definitively set when, at the beginning, somber music accompanied graphic images of the Babi Yar victims both just before and after they were shot to death. Ron Prosor, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, noted that the killings were carried out in an area open to public viewing, and that witnesses had recounted that the ground in the ravine was actually shaking for months afterwards. “If the nations of the world would have raised their voices to protest at that time,” he declared, “then so many of the potential victims’ voices would still be heard today.” Connecting the horrors of the Holocaust with the contemporary manifestation of state-sponsored anti-Semitism and the smaller yet devastating genocides of recent years, the Israeli delegate intoned, “Our commitment to ‘Never Again’ must be universal.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, focused on his comments on the Hebrew word zachor (remember), stating that the Jewish concept of remembrance includes attempting to understand the occurrences of the past. “We look back and recall the Holocaust in order to spare future generations from the consequences of a world that did not act,” he asserted. Referring to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s public denial of the Holocaust, Hoenlein recalled a conversation many years ago with President Reagan, wherein Reagan informed the Jewish leader that – during his stint with the US Army at the end of World War II – the future President uncharacteristically stole a film reel documenting the concentration camps because he sensed that people in the future would deny that the Holocaust had taken place, and he wanted to show proof that it had. “Even then, people did not want to know the truth,” Hoenlein stated. “The Allies had broken the German codes during the war, and they knew about the mass murders – but they did not want to admit it.”
Revealing that he is a child of a World War II veteran and a Holocaust survivor, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, decried the fact that the Soviet Union originally erected a plaque at Babi Yar commemorating the “victims of fascism” buried there, effectively covering up the reality that the victims were Jews. Harris emphasized the importance of utilizing the recorded history of the Holocaust to let the world know the truth. “When Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust at the UN,” he explained, “a few countries walked out on his speech – but unfortunately most did not.” The AJC head concluded by declaring, “The outcome in the struggle between hatred and tolerance depends on our actions.”
Speaking emotionally, Alexander Levin, president of the Greater Kiev Jewish community, said that the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust were targeted because “they were the children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, and they adhered to G-d’s laws.” He added that “G-d has preserved our people so that we can pass on our memories of the Holocaust to our children, and prevent another one.” Levin then announced the establishment of the World Forum of Russian Jewry, a group that would draw on its cultural and religious heritage to act as a bridge between East and West, and an intermediary between the United States, Russia and other countries, as well as to primarily influence their governments to join the world’s fight against Iran.
“Our goal is to bring together Russian-speaking Jews from around the world in order to save ourselves and other people from the next catastrophe and genocide,” Levin proclaimed, “to preserve the world peace, and protect our national land at the State of Israel.” He further added, “We stand ready to unite against Ahmadinejad and the nuclear program of Iran. We will not let another Holocaust engulf us!”
Although they were not on the scheduled program, several of New York City’s elected officials felt duty-bound to address the audience as well. “We can’t afford to be comfortable,” avowed Brooklyn City Councilman Lew Fidler, noting the recent rash of anti-Semitic acts in the city as well as abroad. Brooklyn Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein related how she had gone with other Jewish leaders to Bitburg, Germany, in the 1980’s, to protest President Reagan’s attendance at a wreath-laying ceremony at the graves of Nazi SS soldiers. “The German media was not happy about our actions there,” Weinstein said, “but it’s always important to speak out against injustice.” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio stated that the memory of the Holocaust victims “has to inspire us to push every nation to prevent a new Holocaust.”
A number of other prominent individuals also offered their insights on the day’s theme. Among them were Kiyotaka Akasaka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, who described how the UN utilizes various forms of media to educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust; Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Yuriy Sergeyev; Tamara Gallo-Olexy, President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; Dr. Taras Hunczak, a retired Professor of History at Rutgers University, who expressed dismay over the ability of Germany, the “most cultured nation” in Europe, to commit the extermination of six million Jews; and Nathan Nachmanovich, President of the International Children’s Congress, who informed the audience that many children abandoned their Judaism after the Holocaust due to their fear of becoming victims of anti-Semitism. “We must make our children believe that no harm will come to them from embracing their Jewish identity,” Nachmanovich declared.