Though it’s freezing in Ireland at the moment, the delightful weather here in Tel Aviv tells us that spring is not far off. Even in Ireland the days are getting longer and the cold snap is really winter’s reluctant goodbye.
In Israel, spring is preceded by remembrance of the Holocaust. In the slight chill of January here, it seems appropriate that we remember those lost and indeed those who survived the Shoah. If you check out our new Embassy website (www.embassyofIreland.co.il) you’ll find my tweets and links to a number of interesting articles on the Holocaust. Here is the link to the story of how an Irish documentary led to the arrest of a former Nazi guard stationed at Bergen-Belsen and Gross-Rosen Concentration Camps: http://t.co/Fa0UHRoVNf
On International Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, Irish Ambassadors around the world attended commemorative events. Our Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan attended the commemoration in Auschwitz, the brutal cold a faint hint of what it must have been like there in winter for the starving and ill-clad victims of Nazi cruelty and genocide: coverage here http://t.co/7KalW4vwus
Here in Israel I attended a morning event held at the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Natanya, north of Tel Aviv. The speakers included Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein and HE Ms Vivian Bercovici, Ambassador of Canada. As the generation of survivors dwindles now and in the years ahead, the theme was the second generation of Holocaust survivors. Ambassador Bercovici for example is one such and she gave a moving and powerful speech about her perceptions since childhood of the Holocaust; the lack of relatives, family mementos, the knowledge of a terrible event in the recent past that had resulted in her being raised in Canada. The event concluded with guests laying a white rose in and around the standing stones in the memorial hall. Music was provided by the young and evocative Moran Choir.
The evening event was held at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Speakers included Prime Minister Netanyahu, Thomas Geve, Buchenwald survivor, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the MEPP, and Dr Iael Nidam-Orvieto, Director, International Institute for Holocaust Research. We began at an exhibition: “The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-47”. Mr Geve reflected with direct and simple charm on his memories, at times resisting the curator’s opinion that his art was important. His strongest memories were the arrival of the Americans, which he thought of as friends not soldiers and his wonder at seeing ordinary civilian life when he left the camp.
We then moved to the Yad Vashem Synagogue where Dr Nidam-Orvieto spoke eloquently of the research she has undertaken on the letters of survivors. During their time in the camps, the survivors focused solely on staying alive, repressing their emotional response, she said. After the war, the survivors had to face the emotional impact of what they had endured, aswell as the loss of family. Over time, however, the word ‘happiness’ creeps into their letters, a metric she thought of their eventual adjustment to their delivery and the life they could now expect to live.
So even as we recalled the unfathomable crime of the Holocaust, we could acknowledge that the survivors were more than survivors, that they embraced life again, even if it was life lived with great loss and sorrow. And it was that embrace of life that revived them, gave them the energy to start new lives around the world, most symbolically in Israel where they found a refuge and place where it is never quite winter.
Ambassador of Ireland