On January 27, 2014, the largest-ever delegation of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) members will convene overseas — on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, together with Holocaust survivors, for a historic gathering on combating anti-Semitism.
The symbolism could not be any more striking — mere metres away from the gas chambers where millions of Jews were once murdered, will meet the representatives of the Parliament of the Jewish State of Israel.
The event will be held on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial day in honor of the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. The years 2014 will also mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Army and Allied troops in 1945.
The event organizer and the person behind the project is Jonny Daniels, an Israeli, who is the Founder and Executive Director of ‘From the Depths’, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and ‘connecting the Jewish past with the Jewish future.’
Asked why not wait another year for the 70th Anniversary to hold such a symbolic commemoration, Daniels says, “there is never the right time to hold an event like this,” adding “there is no shortage of symbolic events that happened over the years, that any given day is a special anniversary.”
According to the ‘Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel’, at least one survivor in Israel dies every hour. Daniels warns “there is no time to wait as we are getting very close to the point where there will be no more first-hand accounts left. The onus falling on us, not just as Jews and Israelis, but humanity as a whole, to learn, to be with the survivors and to really understand what happened and to ensure it never repeats again.”
The Israeli delegation will include over half the Knesset, with at least 60 members from all the major parties, and will be led by Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein. Each politician will be accompanying a Holocaust survivor, with a specially chartered plane flying the group from Israel.
In addition, the Israeli delegation will include senior representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, the Chief Rabbis of the State of Israel and representatives of various student groups, signifying the living link between the past and the future.
According to Edelstein, the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is “very worrying”, saying it has reached a level “unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust.”
Edelstein notes “the Holocaust did not start with Auschwitz-Birkenau, but with boycotts, words and throwing stones at Jewish shop windows.” He is also particularly concerned about some of the “openly anti-Semitic” parties and politicians that exist around the world today, especially in Europe.
The primary objective of the mission according to Edelstein is to highlight the importance of remembering the Holocaust and to “have a conversation with elected officials from around the world about what needs to be done to make sure nothing of the kind ever happens again, anywhere in the world, especially as far as Jews are concerned.”
Edelstein warns that anti-Semitism “is not just a Jewish or Israeli problem alone” and that while “it starts with the Jews, it doesn’t end with the Jews.”
The Israeli delegation will be joined by a large number of elected officials and Parliamentarians from around the world, especially Europe, but also including North America. It will be a “symbolic show of strength” that the fight against anti-Semitism is a “global struggle,” says event organizer, Daniels.
According to Sam Nunberg, the Director of North American Outreach of ‘From the Depths’, the international delegation will also include a senior bi-partisan group of leaders from the U.S. Congress. They will be joined by a number of Holocaust survivors from North America, headed by Nobel Laureate and survivor, Elie Wiesel.
In addition to the Knesset hearing at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Yuli Edelstein, Rabbi Lau and Elie Wiesel will lead the delegation in a symbolic walk through the camp. A special memorial service will then be held to mark the 70th Anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, before symbolically ending with the singing of the Hatikva and afternoon ‘Mincha’ prayers.
Noting the “importance and urgency of combatting anti-Semitism”, Edelstein warns “we must not wait until the trains start going to Auschwitz-Birkenau once again.”