It seems somewhat quirky if not actually surreal that the United Nations has implemented a day to remember the Holocaust. For, more than any other international organization, the UN – through its various agencies, commissions and bodies – has been the single most voluble source and the highest profile bully pulpit of Holocaust denial among some of its members as well as calumny, invective, lies and vilification about the Jewish state and the Jewish People.
And yet, since 2006, at the initiative of the UN, Jan. 27 has been set aside as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The date Jan. 27 was selected because it was on that day in 1945 that Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau.
How cruelly, cynically ironic, therefore, that those very Soviets who threw open the iron gates of Auschwitz locked behind the iron gates of their infamous Gulag Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat in Hungary during World War II, whose goodness and courage saved some 100,000 Jews from death.
So exceptional and significant was Wallenberg’s contribution to humanity that the Canadian government made him Canada’s first honorary citizen in 1985. In 2001, Parliament declared January 17 Raoul Wallenberg Day.
In honour of Wallenberg Day last week, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney noted “As we pay tribute to this brave hero, we remember the unique horror of the Holocaust and rededicate ourselves to combating antisemitism, racism and all other forms of discrimination.”
We commend Canada Post for having issued a commemorative stamp in Wallenberg’s honour. The visual reminder of Wallenberg’s heroism can perhaps be a marker, a reminder for our own commitment to help us become better individuals.
There were others, too, who risked their own lives to save the lives of others in World War II. We must always remember them as we do Wallenberg. To name but a few, they were: Giorgio Perlasca, Giovanni Palatucci, Gino Bartali, Jan Karski and Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara.
Sugihara, a Japanese envoy, saved more than 3,000 Lithuanian Jews during the Holocaust. He explained his actions –his bravery – quite simply and quite poignantly: “I cannot allow these people to die, people who have come to me for help with death staring them in the eyes. Whatever punishment may be imposed on me, I know I should follow my conscience.”
Conscience is the starting point. Action is the result.
As Liberal MP Irwin Cotler suggested in his address to the concluding forum of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Year at the Swedish Parliament last month, “May Raoul Wallenberg Day be not only an act of remembrance – which it is – but a remembrance always to act.”