Global youth gather at Yad Vashem parley

UNESCO-sponsored conference aims to study the Holocaust and discuss its universal significance and its effect worldwide.

Yad Vashem 88 (photo credit: )
Yad Vashem 88
(photo credit: )
Teens from 62 countries and five continents have assembled in Jerusalem for the first three-day Youth Congress at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies. Sponsored by UNESCO, the conference - which started on Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day - aims to study the Holocaust and discuss its universal significance and its effect worldwide. Participants range in age from 17-19 and include Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists from countries as varied as Senegal, Thailand, Guatemala, Turkey, India and China. "In Switzerland, Holocaust study is too theoretical," said Congress Member Jonathan Bollag of Zurich. "This is important, to see how actual of a problem this still is and learn how to deal with it." As part of the educational aspect of the Congress, participants study the Holocaust through a tour of Yad Vashem, meet with survivors and attend lectures by officials, including Pedagogical Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies Shulamit Imber; Academic Adviser of Yad Vashem Prof. Yehuda Bauer; President Shimon Peres; Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. At the close of the conference, members expect to build and present an international youth declaration and present it to Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. Members were motivated to participate by a variety of different reasons. Li Jiayi of Shanghai feels that "it is vital for teens to talk" about an issue of such great magnitude. For many, this Congress is their first experience learning about the Holocaust and their first brush with Israel. "In India, we only studied World War II and [learned] that six million Jews died," said Chawla Gunjan of New Delhi. "This is a new experience [that offers] details." Several conference members have had experience in Model United Nations, an international program that simulates the UN General Assembly. The international quality of the Youth Congress is one of its strongest aspects, as members discuss what can be done to halt genocides around the world before it is too late and what should be done to punish perpetrators of genocide. "We need the international community," said Jiayi. "To expect domestic enforcement would be ridiculous, and victims need someone to turn to." Not focused solely on understanding the past, the Youth Congress emphasizes how study of the Holocaust can help unravel current conflict and prevent future genocide, even one that does not directly affect their home nations. "In China, war and killing is far away," said Jiayi. "But here, we face that history is very near, only 60 years ago, and it could happen in the future."