75th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz to bring close to 40 world leaders to Israel

At least 36 world leaders, among them three monarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be in Israel’s capital on January 22-23 for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum (WHF).

PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May.  (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Not since the 2016 funeral of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres have so many global politicians come to Jerusalem at the one time.
At least 36 world leaders, among them three monarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be in Israel’s capital on January 22-23 for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum (WHF) marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.
Previous gatherings of  the WHF, which was founded in 2005 by Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, were held in Europe. The  first, held in Krakow, Poland, was attended by official delegations led by their heads of state, one of who was Putin. The second was in Kiev, Ukraine, and was attended by more than 1,000 people from 60 countries. The third was again in Krakow, a city that happens to be not far from Auschwitz, and the fourth was held in Prague and Terezin in the Czech Republic.
At a media briefing at the President’s Residence on Wednesday, Kantor said that he was particularly pleased that the fifth gathering of the WHF will take place in Jerusalem.
The event, organized by the State of Israel, Yad Vashem and WHF, is being held under the auspices of President Reuven Rivlin who will host a state dinner for the visiting dignitaries on January 22. Together with German President Frank Walter Steinmeier, he will deliver a keynote address at Yad Vashem on January 23.
Rivlin, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev and Kantor all emphasized the importance not only of remembering the Holocaust but ensuring it does not happen again.
Resurgent antisemitism around the globe and violent attacks against Jewish individuals and institutions have given rise to fears that if world leaders do not join forces in stamping out incitement, racial hatred and general xenophobia, the catastrophe which engulfed the world 80 years ago may repeat itself.
Confirmed attendances that include Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France, Sergio Mattarella of Italy, and Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria.
While it is known that there will be delegations from the US and Poland, said Yuval Rotem, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the leaders of those delegations has not yet been disclosed.
A source at the King David Hotel, where most of the dignitaries will be staying, told The Jerusalem Post that if President Donald Trump decides to attend it will mean wide scale rearrangement because currently all rooms in the capital’s five-star hotels are fully booked for the conference period.
Putin, who will not be staying at the King David, will also be in Israel to inaugurate a monument in Jerusalem to the victims of the siege of Leningrad.
While Rotem was unsure about the number of foreign media covering the event, he said a media center will be set up for them if necessary.
Over much of this year Rivlin, in addition to sending out official invitations to heads of state, has mentioned the January gathering to every foreign dignitary whom he has met.
In addition, Israel’s ambassadors abroad have followed up on the invitations.
At the media briefing, Rivlin noted that although the liberation of Auschwitz was a significant aspect of the victory over the Nazis, it was late in coming. “We lost a third of our people,” he said.
Describing the conference as “unique” and “crucial”, Rivlin  commented that coming generations will grow up without knowing any Holocaust survivors. The implication was that more effort will have to be dedicated to Holocaust education.
Rivlin commended the tremendous input into the conference by Foreign Ministry staff saying that it was “exceptional.”
For Katz, the forum is important both from an historical and a personal perspective. His late parents, Meir and Malka Katz, were Holocaust survivors. His mother was deported to Auschwitz and survived a death march near the end of WWII.
There is special significance in holding the conference on antisemitism in Jerusalem, he said, because the existence of the State of Israel means that the Jewish people will never again be defenseless against their enemies.
The Holocaust has become a paradigm to measure human capacity for engaging in radical, cruel and systematic evil, not only because of its unprecedented scope but because of the “rationale” behind the Nazi ideology that the extermination of the Jewish people would protect their own national interests and the purity of the German race, said Shalev.
He underscored the importance of world leaders committing themselves at Yad Vashem to both remembering the evils of the Holocaust and to combating present-day antisemitism in all its forms.
Footnote: Many of the Jewish prisoners liberated in Auschwitz by the Red Army were afraid the Russian soldiers had come to give them back their freedom. But the Jewish soldiers among the liberators, including Yehuda Rubashevsky who spoke Yiddish, were able to allay the prisoners’ fears.
Rubashevsky looked after a group of young women prisoners. Before leaving the camp, they presented him with a wallet they had sewn. Prior to his death in Kharkov, Ukraine in 1973, Rubashevsky told his daughter Vladilyna that he would love to know what had happened to the women he liberated.
After his death, his daughter migrated to Israel and brought the wallet to Yad Vashem. She asked that an attempt be made to find these women who had survived Auschwitz. When they had given the wallet to Rubashevsky, they had included a letter of thanks which all of them signed, so Yad Vashem when mounting its search, at least had their maiden names.
Yad Vashem discovered the fate of one of the women named Olga Klein. She had settled in Haifa, Israel, and brought up a family. Though no longer alive, her sons confirmed that she had been the Olga Klein who signed the letter.