President Reuven Rivlin .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Reuven Rivlin is set to visit France on Tuesday for four days.
The trip is within the framework of a bi-national series of activities and events in France and Israel in celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence.
In addition to discussing bilateral affairs and the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe with French President Emanuel Macron, Rivlin will also tour a French Air Force base, where he will be escorted by Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkis.
He will later join heads of the French Jewish community and senior members of the French government in celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary.
The visit is also to honor the memory of diplomats who risked their careers and their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Many diplomats of varying rank, serving in different countries throughout Europe were engaged in rescue work in the effort to save Jews from the Nazis. Very often, such diplomats worked against the policies of their own countries because to them, saving lives took precedence over any orders they might receive from their senior officials.
Two of these extraordinary individuals was Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who organized rescue efforts in Hungary, and Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who from his office in Lithuania issued literally thousands of life-saving transit visas to Jews who would otherwise have been murdered.
But there were many other diplomats who were doing much the same thing.
According to The Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust (ISRAH), between 1933 and 1945, diplomats representing 27 countries rescued Jews in more than 35 geographic areas.
A traveling exhibition honoring some of these humane and courageous diplomats under the title of ‘Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats’ was first shown at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in January, 1995. It was subsequently shown in Stockholm, in 1999, at United Nations European headquarters in Geneva in 2000, and at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in 2008. It has been shown in many other countries including Israel and has been seen by royalty, presidents and prime ministers.
ISRAH has as its banner a quote by Dr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux, France, who said in 1940: “I would rather be with God against man than with man against God.”
There were several instances in which diplomats from a particular country, especially Turkey, were simultaneously working in several countries to save Jews.
While in Paris, Rivlin will have the opportunity to familiarize himself with the brave exploits of these diplomats, some of whom were subsequently ostracized at home.
Although it is generally believed that the Vatican turned a blind eye to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, this is not so according to ISRAH, as there were Papal Nuncios in Europe who provided a haven for Jews and gave them their protection in other ways.
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