Yad Vashem: A gathering of leaders, not a public ceremony

Many leaders, but few actual survivors invited to landmark Holocaust event

Son of former Auschwitz prisoner, who was not among 30 given tickets to event, says forum should have been honoring survivors first and foremost

The audience stands for the Israeli national anthem at the end of the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as Israel marks the country's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The audience stands for the Israeli national anthem at the end of the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as Israel marks the country's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Only 30 of some 800 seats at a major international Holocaust memorial event to be held in Jerusalem this week were reserved for survivors of the Jewish genocide, causing consternation among some uninvited survivors and their families.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place on Thursday at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

At least 47 world leaders or senior diplomats, including 26 presidents, four kings (from Spain, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg) and four prime ministers will be in town for the event, officials have said.

But Army Radio reported Monday that survivors were not high on the list of invitees, with only 30 spots reserved for them at Yad Vashem (and another 30 for the survivors’ escorts).

Yaron Hanan, a former Haifa city council member, told the station that his mother Rachel, an Auschwitz survivor, was not invited and could not get a ticket.

“What’s a greater symbol of the Auschwitz camp than those who are still alive and who are with us?” Hanan said. “I think they’re no less essential to representing what took place there than anything else this ceremony is intended to achieve.”

Yad Vashem in an official response said, “The event is not a public ceremony but rather a gathering of leaders.” It noted that some 100,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel and it would have been impossible to invite even a fraction of them.

But Hanan was unconvinced, asserting that the remaining survivors who went through Auschwitz number “about several dozen — some of them not healthy enough to come.”

He said those who could “should have been the first to be invited. Because at the event that will mark 80 years since Auschwitz [was liberated] I don’t think they’ll be here, some of them. This is a one-time event, where they [can] feel a sense of triumph… they have an emotional need to be there. They are the greatest symbol of the eventual triumph of the Jewish people and they were not invited.”

This photograph taken on December 15, 2019, in Oswiecim, Poland, shows an aerial view of the railway entrance to former German Nazi death camp Auschwitz II – Birkenau with its SS guards tower. (Pablo GONZALEZ / AFP)

In light of the report, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin said he would hand over his invitation to a survivor who wished to attend but was not invited. He called on his fellow ministers to do the same.

The Foreign Ministry has called the event the third-largest gathering of international leaders in Israel’s history, after the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

The proceedings — both a Wednesday gathering at President Reuven Rivlin’s residence and the larger Yad Vashem event on Thursday — will be broadcast live.

The guest list includes US Vice President Mike Pence, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zolensky, Britain’s Prince Charles, and many more leaders from Romania, Italy, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Bosnia, Iceland, Armenia, Australia, Canada and other nations.

One leader pointedly missing from the event will be Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who announced last week he would not attend because organizers had not included him as a speaker at the forum.

Polish President Andrzej Duda during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2019, at the United Nations in New York City. (Don Emmert/AFP)

Duda has criticized the fact that representatives of the US, Russia, France, the UK and Germany would all speak at the memorial while his request to address the forum had been denied.

Yad Vashem said the speakers will represent the winners of World War II and the country that perpetrated the Holocaust — Germany.

The Polish announcement comes amid a dispute between Warsaw and Moscow over allegations of collaboration with the Nazis and responsibility for the outbreak of World War II. In December, Putin accused Poland of having been in cahoots with Adolf Hitler during the war. He also cast Poland as an anti-Semitic country that welcomed the Nazi dictator’s plans to destroy Europe’s Jews.

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