Statement by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor
“Partners of Hope Concert
5 FEBRUARY 2007, 8:00 P.M. CARNEGIE HALL”
Ladies and Gentleman,
It is an honour for me to be here this evening at this special concert in support of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. And it is a particular honour to pay tribute to those who, like Raoul Wallenberg, actually embodied, in their own lives, our aspiration to act according to our consciences and to be guided in our actions by the noblest of human motives – not the least of which is respect for the rights and dignity of others.
That was often dangerous in the countries of the Axis during the Second World War. But that many were too frightened to stand up to the Nazi regime only underscores that those who had the courage and the integrity to be among “the righteous” were heroes indeed.
The United Nations itself was built on the ashes of the Holocaust. When they were confronted by the full horror of what had been done in the death camps of Europe, world leaders were inspired to create a place where they could work together to change our world for the better. So the UN is itself a testimony to the victims of genocide.
It is, of course, impossible to know what symphonies have not been written, what diseases have not been cured or what children have not been born because more than six million lives were cut short, before they could fulfil their promise. The whole world was diminished by this abomination, and the whole world has cause to mourn and remember.
But to remember is not enough. We remember so as not to forget – not to forget the past, but also not to forget our duty to the present. Our memorials must remind people the world over that the lessons of the Holocaust must be taken to heart, and that we must all remember and understand that these horrors were perpetrated as a result of intolerance and bigotry and hate.
One way we at the UN do this is through a special outreach programme, organized by my Department – the UN Department of Public Information. This programme shares a common mission with the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation: to promote education and public awareness, not just of the overwhelming tragedy and loss, but also of the resistance to hate and the heroism that emerged in these times of horror.
Sometimes, given the scale of the genocide and the number of lives that were stolen, it is easy to forget the courage and humanity that some heroes revealed. And, of course, we are honouring those heroes this evening. They are an inspiration to all of us who seek peace and tolerance. And I am very proud to represent the UN, which works every day for a peaceful and tolerant world, here this evening.
And it is my privilege to start this evening’s programme with a remarkable story of protest and defiance that resulted in the rescue of a significant part of Bulgaria’s Jewish population, in the midst of World War II.
In 1943, as the Nazi reign of terror spread and Jews throughout Europe were subjected to deportation and murder in the camps, Bulgaria's Jews were scheduled to suffer the same fate.
The Vice President of the Twenty-fifth National Assembly of Bulgaria, Dimitar Peshev, describes those days in his memoirs:
“I considered what I had to do. I could not fold my arms and sit back quietly when at stake were matters that would have such grave consequences both now and in the future.
“To remain silent would have been a breach of conscience; it would have been contrary to my sense of responsibility both as a deputy and as a human being.
“I would be responsible for the outcome if I did not take steps to halt actions …. that I knew to be a grave crime from a constitutional as well as a human and moral viewpoint.
“I decided to act.”
Peshev and 42 deputies sent a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider the decision. He argued that the deportation of Bulgaria’s Jews would have dire moral, as well as political, consequences for the Government and people of Bulgaria.
“Such a measure is inadmissible not only because these people, while not deprived of their Bulgarian citizenship, cannot be banished from Bulgaria, but also because it would constitute a detrimental act which would have grave political consequences for this country. It would put on Bulgaria's face an undeserved stigma which would … encumber the nation morally.”
As a result of his persistence and determination, some
48,000 Bulgarian Jews were rescued from certain death, and Bulgaria was the only country that fell under Hitler’s jackboots that emerged with a Jewish population that was larger at the end of the war than it was at its beginning.
Tragically, two years after his efforts saved the lives of thousands, Dimitar Peshev was sentenced by a 'people's court' for collaboration. In January 1973, Yad Vashem awarded him the title of "Righteous Among the Nations," for his role in halting the deportation of Bulgaria's Jews, at considerable risk to himself. He died that same year.Tonight we honour this act of heroism.
For more information, please visit www.irwf.org, write to the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 212-737-3275.