27 January 2012
United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
“Children and the Holocaust”
The 2012 observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust was built around the theme “Children and the Holocaust”. The United Nations remembered the one-and-a-half million Jewish children, along with thousands of Roma and Sinti children, the disabled and others, who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. By remembering the Holocaust and its victims, the United Nations honours the memory of these children and helps ensure that future generations do not suffer similar heartbreak.
The ceremony began with a video message from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (you can view it in its entirety here), in which he implored all nations to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and to protect children’s rights around the world. Statements were made by H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly; H.E. Ambassador Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations; H.E. Ambassador Luis Lithgow, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations; and H.E. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations. Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information at the United Nations, hosted the event.
The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Krell of Vancouver, British Columbia. A child Holocaust survivor, Dr. Krell was born in The Hague, The Netherlands in 1940 and lived through the Holocaust by hiding with a Christian family. After the war, he was reunited with his parents, who also had survived the Holocaust years in hiding. Dr. Krell and his family immigrated to Canada, where he later received his medical degree in psychiatry and has devoted his life to helping Holocaust survivors heal from their traumas. Dr. Krell’s personal story of survival and perseverance is a moving testimony to the endurance of the human spirit, while serving as a reminder that the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.
The audience then listened as a narrator described the life stories of five children who died during the Holocaust. These poignant descriptions left the audience wondering what these children, and the hundreds of thousands of others who perished, might have contributed to society if their lives had not been cut short. Another narrator then read the life stories of five child Holocaust survivors who grow up to become accomplished adults, The audience was deeply touched by the survivors’ resilient spirits and their ability to shape new lives out of the devastation of the Holocaust. Their stories are a true testament to courage, determination and accomplishment.
Cantor Azi Schwartz, the Cantor and Musical Director of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, recited the traditional memorial prayers of Kel Maleh Rachamim and Ani Ma’amin during the ceremony.
A group of young singers from New York City performed songs from “Sosua: Dare to Dance Together”, an original musical production based on historical events that led up to World War II.
The production tells the story of Jewish immigration to the Dominican Republic before the Holocaust. This small country was one of the only countries in the Western hemisphere to welcome the Jews who had managed to escape Hitler’s Germany. Against this historical scenario, the musical explores the broader themes of intolerance, persecution, acceptance and cooperation among diverse groups. The talented young adults performed four songs from the musical, demonstrating the power of art to transcend a dark moment in history.
The ceremony also served as the official launch of a new study guide for children, developed by the United Nations Holocaust Programme as a companion to the new documentary film “The Last Flight of Petr Ginz”. This documentary with animation tells the story of Petr Ginz, a Jewish boy from Prague who perished in the Holocaust at the age of 16. Petr was a brilliant boy who wrote four novels, kept a diary, ran an underground magazine, and drew more than 200 illustrations and paintings – all during a brief life that included two years in the transit camp of Terezin. The 32-page study guide features Petr’s art and writings, provides historical context for the film, and teaches children about the United Nations, human rights and Holocaust Programme activities. The study guide will be available online in all official United Nations languages and will be distributed, along with the film, to the Organization’s global network of information centres for educational programmes in the field.
This seventh-annual ceremony was a day of reflection and hope for a better world for children everywhere. The United Nations remembers the children who perished in the Holocaust and pledges to keep working to ensure the protection of the lives and rights of children around the world.