A memorial candle for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In disputably and rightly so, the Nazi Holocaust is deemed as one of the most tragic chapters in the history of mankind.
To be sure, the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators illustrate the degree of hatred that human beings can harbor. Having said so, alongside the heinous sadism of the Nazis, another, opposite phenomenon took place during the Shoah, which still remains under-exposed. We are referring to the brave women and men who reached out to the victims, oftentimes risking their freedom and even their own lives and those of their relatives.
These heroes had little in common.
They came from diverse nationalities, creeds and walks of life. Some were deeply religious, others were agnostic. However, this diverse fabric of common people, diplomats, priests and nuns did share the strong conviction that they could not stand idly by while other human beings were being slaughtered by the murderous Nazi machine.
For several decades now, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has been entirely devoted to telling the story of the rescuers, to rescue them from oblivion, to recognize all the good they did and to instill their spirit of solidarity in the hearts and minds of the younger generations.
Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved scores of Hungarian Jews in his short-lived mission, which lasted only seven months, is a clear example, but there are many other rescuers, such as Angelo Roncalli, Luis Martins de Souza Dantas, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Carl Lutz and Sir Nicholas Winton, who last May 19 turned 106. Many other rescuers are less known, but they have all acted in the same spirit and deserve our infinite gratitude.
It is in this context that our foundation has recently launched a new project named “Houses of Life.” The idea is to identify and mark with commemorative plaque physical sites in Europe which gave shelter to people persecuted by the Nazis, primarily children. What has started as a modest project turned into a major undertaking. To our pleasant surprise, in a matter of months we managed to identify across Europe more than 200 places that qualify as Houses of Life. They are scattered in various countries, including Italy, France, Poland, Germany and Hungary.
In Rome alone, a staggering number of almost 200 Catholic convents, churches, monasteries and boarding schools have been already been located and we are in the process of unveiling a commemorative plaque in each of them.
For this interfaith project, the Wallenberg Foundation has partnered with Mr. Jesus Colina and Ms. Silvia Costantini, top executives of Aleteia, a major Catholic News network, based in the Vatican.
In Italy only, for instance, it is estimated that some 3,000 Jews, mostly children, owe their lives to those who hid them.
So far, we have held ceremonies in The General Curia of the Capuchin Order, the Villa Mondragone (Tor Vergata University), Saint Giuseppe Institute and the Santa Brigida Convent, all of them in Rome, the headquarters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Maria in Florence, where Emmanuel and Raffaele Pacifici, children of the late chief rabbi of Genoa, Riccardo Pacifici (murdered by the Nazis) found shelter. (Pacifici’s grandson, who carries the same name, is the incumbent president of the Jewish community in Rome.) In Paris, the Notre Dame de Sion school was also recently proclaimed a House of Life and on June 30, the Greek island of Ereikousa (Corfu) will be recognized as a House of Life for the collective efforts of the islanders to give refuge to a Jewish family during WWII.
Additional ceremonies will soon take place in Poland and in other countries.
We believe that the Houses of Life project is an educational initiative par excellence, and our dream now is to organize a huge gathering of the rescuers and survivors, as well as their living relatives.
This would be a perfect platform to recognize the gift of life given by the rescuers and to shed light on their admirable legacy, for the world to know and recognize.
Our world is not immune from further atrocities and therefore we ascribe such key importance to education, highlighting the rescuers as the ultimate role models.Eduardo Eurnekian is the chairman and Baruch Tenembaum the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.