In an address at an event this month on Capitol Hill, Dr. Samuel Pisar, UNESCO Honorary Ambassador, Special Envoy for Holocaust Education and Polish-born Holocaust survivor and acclaimed international lawyer, author and human rights activist, drew parallels between the Nazi era and the present day, stating that some of today’s anti-Semitism on Arab and Iranian television channels was “exactly what I used to hear as a child in Nazi-occupied Europe.” He added that this gives a sense of the reality of what the free and democratic world is currently up against.
Ambassador Pisar, whose memoir “Of Blood and Hope” was awarded the Present Tense Literary Award in 1981, was one of several distinguished speakers at the event, the fourth annual ceremony marking the establishment of the Tom Lantos Archives on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial. The event was held July 18 by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
In his talk, Ambassador Pisar spoke of his close friendship with the late Congressman Tom Lantos, and of the bond between them because they had both lost their families in Auschwitz. He recalled that the two had shared, and wept over, their experiences there. Referring to those experiences, he told his audience that he had been at “the epicenter of the greatest catastrophe ever perpetrated by man against [man], under the eyes of a largely indifferent world” and that “the unthinkable, the unimaginable is again possible.”
He said, “In our newly inflamed and destabilized world, the ashes of the Holocaust therefore speak to us not only about the past, but also about the present and the future. Yet today’s despots and demagogues, some with nuclear ambitions who call the Holocaust ‘a myth,’ are again plotting to wipe us out, and possibly other vulnerable peoples as well.”
He added, “Looking back at the crises and upheavals that once destroyed my universe, I shudder to think what might happen if a weakening Europe, threatened by economic and political setbacks, fell prey to mounting unemployment, insecurity and fear. For when rampant fear drowns reason, populist folly recruits merciless saviors. This is how democracies perish and hunts for scapegoats begin. Jews are always first in the line of attack.”
In his role as UNESCO Honorary Ambassador, Dr. Pisar reflects on his commitment to the idea that “the Holocaust, attacked by incendiary demagogues as a ‘myth,’ is an all-too-real warning for mankind of possible horrors yet to come. For it has revealed, as have more recent genocides and ethnic cleansings, that humans are still capable of the worst as well as of the best, of hatred as well as of love, of madness as well as of genius, and that the unthinkable remains possible. Unless we espouse, through remembrance and education, the core universal values embedded in all great creeds – spiritual and secular – the forces of darkness may return with a vengeance to haunt us again.”
The Tom Lantos Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial Archives were founded in 2009 by The Lantos Foundation and the Middle East Media Research Institute.