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May 3, 2011 2:36 pm

Holocaust Remembrances Commemorate Righteous, Focus on Life

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Swiss Consul General Francois Barras joined Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni at a ceremony commemorating Swiss Diplomat Carl Lutz, whose efforts saved 62,000 Jewish lives. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, of Park East Synagogue, stands to their right. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

It is “the courage to stand up for what is right” that characterizes a Hero.  Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, Vice Consul in Budapest, Hungary during World War II, was such a man.  By issuing group certificates – the Swiss Pass – he effectively placed thousands of Hungarian Jews under the protection of neutral Switzerland and secured their lives.  In 1944, he countermanded the orders of Adolf Eichmann, pulling Jews out of the forced march.

Then, the sixteen year old Arthur Schneier was a witness.  Now, as Rabbi of the renowned Park East Synagogue, he, together with Ambassador Francois Barras, Consul General of Switzerland in New York, and the Honorable Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, stood to honor the courage and actions of the Swiss Consul who used his country’s neutrality to actively confront hatred – and save thousands of Jewish lives. (Lutz and his wife, Gertrud, were designated as Righteous among the Nations by Yad VaShem in 1964.)

“We are in a 10 day cycle of remembrance and celebration…an annual reminder of the Jewish cycle of life…from oppression to prosperity” said Consul General Aharoni, leading us “from ashes to the heights of human productivity.”  The Jewish people’s achievements are a testimonial to the ‘immense power” and “undefeated strength of the spirit.”

“As we grieve the loss of so many, we celebrate the lives of the survivors,” the consul concluded, saying “we will never forget the inhumanity…and will forever celebrate all that is human.”

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Neutrality, said Swiss Consul General Ambassador Francois Barras, can be a positive force if used to find a way to help people in need.  Placed in the position of representing the interests of 12 nations during the war, Carl Lutz used his neutrality – and diplomatic skills – to outwit the Nazi malevolence and save 62,000 Jewish lives.  Stepping outside the natural “prudent” nature of a diplomat, he took risks to try to make a difference.   We “must always use neutrality to fight injustice,” advised Barras.

"Those of us who made it, will never forget," promised Rabbi Arthur Schneier, spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Readings, dramatic recollections of the fragile maintenance of life in the face of rampant death – words of the survivors – were voiced by the young.  Children, students, called upon all, especially the younger generation, to “stand against hatred and help create a better world.”

The words and memories of survivors were recalled in a moving event at the Park Avenue Synagogue.  Memories and music across the generations recalled lives of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust.  The clear voices of the very young sang across the years, evoking memories through music.  From a traditional Yiddish lullaby to the declarative “We Are Here!” the soul catching Yiddish melodies sung by the Cantor brought moments of recollection – and perhaps a tear – to the gathered congregation.

The week of remembrance began at a ceremony of commemoration at the Consulate of Israel in New York, at which Maria Rabb accepted Yad V’Shem’s 23,788 medal and certificate of recognition as a Righteousness Person, awarded to her mother, Ilona Lukacsi and her aunt Ilona Lukacsi.  A “Righteous Person” designation is given to someone whose “action taken is done at the risk of one’s own life.  Lukacsi is the 754th Hungarian gentile to be recognized as a Righteous Person.

As she accepted the medal, Rabb’s emotion was clearly visible.  She recounted the story of how, in 1944, a Jewish worker in her father’s shoe business asked the family to hide his wife and children.  Then a ten year old child, she spoke of the precarious survival of her family and of the Jewish family they hid as four different armies came and left their small town. The occasion brought forth “all the feelings that I have buried. ” Maria recalled that she was “an only daughter who got two sisters” – with whom she remains close.

“During humanity’s bleakest moments, there is a ray of hope” said Israel’s Consul General in New York Ido Aharoni. “The possibility of the unilateral extinction of our people no long exists,” assured the diplomat.

How, asked the Algemeiner, was she as such a young child, strong enough to keep her life threatening secret?  “Some things” she recalled, “even a child knows not to speak about.”

Maria Rabb, daughter of Ilona Lukacsi and niece of Jolan Lukacsi, both listed among the Righteous by Yad V'Shem, received its medal and Certificate from Consul General Ido Aharoni, at a ceremony in the Israeli Consulate in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Through the Flames: Menachem Z. Rosensaft, Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Survivors, Past President of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, Rosensaft was born sixty three years ago, May 1, 1948, in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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