March of the Living particpants outside the gates of Auschwitz.
(photo credit: AGENJCA GAZETA/ REUTERS)
NEW YORK - As part of the United Nations' commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel's permanent mission to the international body will host a special exhibit sponsored by the International March of the Living at the UN's New York headquarters.
“As the last of the Holocaust survivors slowly leave us, the experiences of young people who have joined them and visited the sites where unimaginable horrors took place are more important than ever,” said Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.
“By hearing the stories of the survivors, and vowing to bear witness to future generations, these young people ensure that the chain of memory will not be broken and allow us all to fulfill our vow of ‘never again.’”
The International March of the Living is an annual education program that brings individuals from around the world to visit Poland and Israel to study the Holocaust and tour German death camps on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
According to the organization’s website, the program has already completed 29 marches, bringing over 260,000 participants from 52 different countries since its inception.
The exhibit, entitled “Witness,” commemorates the 30th anniversary of the March of the Living and includes moving and powerful reflections and images of Holocaust survivors and students who have traveled on the March of the Living since 1988.
The event will include spoken and musical presentations from past participants in the March of the Living - survivors and students — along with a special musical performance by celebrated Israeli musical artists Miri Mesika and David D'Or.
"Aware that we hold in our hands one of the greatest tools to ensure the future - Education - we have committed ourselves to relay to the next generation the importance of collective memory and communal legacy,” said Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President, International March of the Living.
“This is our path to continuity. And this, in essence, is the mission of the March of the Living."
The event hosted by the Israeli mission was nearly thrown into chaos after one of the scheduled performers, singer and songwriter Amir Benayoun, was denied a US travel visa.
Earlier this month, US Consulate refused to issue the document to Benayoun, though Mesika and D’or had their requests approved.
At the time, the embassy said Benayoun did not sufficiently prove he was intending to return to Israel, but the singer claimed the refusal was for political reasons.
“I’m happy to represent my land and my nation at a ceremony in honor of Holocaust victims,” Benayoun said in a Friday statement. “What’s done is done and we have an important task ahead of us.”
But on Friday, the US consulate switched course and granted the singer a travel visa, and will perform during the scheduled event on Monday.
Organizers say 350 to 400 people are expected to take part in Monday’s event, including ambassadors from around the world and Holocaust survivors. The song is also slated to be used as part of Holocaust memorial ceremonies held in Turkey and Kosovo this year.
While several Israeli officials had promised to help Benayoun receive a visa, at least one was working against him.
When the trip was first announced, Meretz MK Esawi Frej sent an official letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requesting that Benayoun not be allowed to perform due to what the lawmaker deemed his racist views.
“I do not know what the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations was thinking about inviting Benayoun, a singer who has long been exploiting his talent and public sales to spread hatred and racism,” Frej wrote in the letter, giving examples of Benayoun's lyrics.
In response to Frej’s letter, Alison Smale, a deputy of Guterres, said Benayoun was not invited by the UN to appear at its UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony that will be held on Wednesday.
It's not the singer's first brush with controversy; he was disinvited from a performance at the President's Residence in 2014 by President Reuven Rivlin over the content of one of his songs.
Benayoun is known for composing songs related to current events. During wave of terror attacks throughout the country, and Jerusalem in particular, he published a song with racist connotations under the title “Ahmed Loves Jerusalem.”
Benayoun posted the song on his Facebook page, provoking a flood of criticism and accusations of racism. In the song, Benayoun describes an Arab student in Jerusalem, who he calls "ungrateful scum," who will stab or shoot you in the back eventually.
Amy Spiro contributed to this report.