Menachem Z. Rosensaft, General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and Senior Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, received the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) at Graduation on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.
His address is below.
President Panken, Mrs. Freedlander, Dean Idelson, Rabbi Ellenson, Mr. Berger, my fellow honorees, graduates and faculty of Hebrew-Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, my dear friends Rabbi David Posner and Rabbi Joshua Davidson, ladies and gentlemen:
Mrs. Freedlander, thank you so very much for your most kind words.
I am deeply honored and profoundly moved to receive the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize from HUC-JIR, an institution that embodies the noblest values of both Judaism and humankind.
I am especially honored to be in the company of so many previous recipients of this unique award who have long been personal heroes of mine, including the French historian and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, Ambassadors Stuart E. Eizenstat, Richard C. Holbrooke and Uri Lubrani, and President Shimon Peres.
Allow me, however, to single out one former recipient of the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize: As head of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte rescued thousands of inmates from different Nazi concentration camps during the final months of the Holocaust. He then brought approximately 6,000 critically ill survivors of Bergen-Belsen to Sweden immediately after the end of World War II. He was truly one of the rare shining lights in a world epitomized largely by darkness and indifference. It is an incredible privilege for me to now be associated with him in this way.
Remembrance of any kind, including the remembrance of the Shoah, is only meaningful if it is a catalyst for action that will at least improve, if not repair or heal, the human condition.
My wife Jeanie and I just returned yesterday from Germany where we participated in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Speaking beside the camp’s mass-graves this past Sunday, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, reminded us that, “From the ashes of this terrible place, the Jewish people rose up and moved on.”
Two-thousand children were born in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen during the five years following the liberation, only a short distance from where tens of thousands had perished. Sixty-seven years ago tomorrow, I was one of those children. Our collective birth symbolized as nothing else can our parents’ determination to return to life, to renew life, and to try to ensure that no one else would have to suffer the horrors to which they had been so mercilessly subjected.
We are at a transitional moment in history. The primary responsibility for the preservation and future transmission of the survivors’ memories has shifted to their children and grandchildren. Today, there are those who attempt to diminish the significance of Holocaust remembrance to avoid having to deal with the ever-present potential for evil within human beings. It is our obligation to ensure that the genocide of European Jewry not be trivialized or exploited.
As we know only too well, the Holocaust was far from the only genocide of the 20th and 21st centuries. Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur are but four of the sites where cruelty and horror were allowed to prevail.
Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust, there is an alarming resurgence of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism in various parts of Europe. There is also a frightening delegitimation, often bordering on demonization, of the State of Israel that constitutes its own insidious type of anti-Semitism. Today, we are also witnesses to the slaughter of Christians and others at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram and other mass murderers in parts of the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
The purpose of Holocaust remembrance is to make us – all of us – sensitive and responsive to the plights of all, Jews and non-Jews alike, whose lives and existence are threatened by hatred and bigotry. And it is our responsibility to support, sustain and strengthen the State of Israel as the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of all those who perished and survived in the Shoah.
I am profoundly grateful that I have been given the opportunity to continue a task begun by my parents from the moment of their liberation at Bergen-Belsen. They taught me to always look toward the future without ever forgetting the past. That is the spirit and vision embodied by both Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize.
May we all live up to and fulfill the mandate inherent in that spirit and vision.
Thank you again for this tremendous honor.
To read the remarks given by Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee, Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, click here >
For further information about Menachem Rosensaft, click here >
For further information about 2015 Graduation and Ordination Ceremonies, click here >