Arsen Ostrovsky
International Human Rights Lawyer, Pro-Israel Advocate, Middle East Analyst

Knesset to hold historic gathering at Auschwitz-Birkenau on combating anti-Semitism

At least 60 MKs from all the major parties to convene in largest Knesset gathering overseas, led by Speaker Yuli Edelstein
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visiting the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, as he takes part in the 'March of the Living' on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 7, 2013. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visiting the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, as he takes part in the 'March of the Living' on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 7, 2013. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

On January 27, 2014, the largest ever delegation of Knesset members will convene overseas, on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, together with Holocaust survivors, for a historic gathering on combating anti-Semitism and preservation of death camps.

The symbolism could not be any more striking — mere meters away from the gas chambers where millions of Jews were once murdered, the representatives of the parliament of the Jewish state will meet.

The event will be held on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial day in honor of the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. 2014 will also mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Army and Allied troops in 1945.

(Photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion / Times of Israel)
(Photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion / Times of Israel)

The organizer behind the project is Jonny Daniels, the Israeli Founder and Executive Director of From the Depths, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and “connecting the Jewish past with the Jewish future.”

Asked why not wait another year for the 70th Anniversary to hold such a symbolic commemoration, Daniels says, “There is never the right time to hold an event like this,” adding “there is no shortage of symbolic events that happened over the years, that any given day is a special anniversary.”

According to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, at least one survivor in Israel dies every hour. Daniels warns “there is no time to wait as we are getting very close to the point where there will be no more first-hand accounts left. The onus falls on us, not just as Jews and Israelis, but humanity as a whole, is to learn, to be with the survivors and to really understand what happened and to ensure it never repeats again.”

The Israeli delegation will include over half the Knesset, with at least 60 MKs from all the major parties, and will be led by Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein. Each MK will be accompanying a Holocaust survivor, with a specially chartered plane flying the group from Israel.

In addition, the delegation will include senior representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, both Chief Rabbis of the State of Israel and former Chief Rabbi Meir Lau (a Holocaust survivor himself). Representatives of various student groups will also attend, signifying the living link between the past and the future.

According to Edelstein, the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is “very worrying.” He says it has reached a level “unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust.”

Edelstein notes: “The Holocaust did not start with Auschwitz-Birkenau, but with boycotts, words and throwing stones at Jewish shop windows.” He is also particularly concerned about some of the “openly anti-Semitic” parties and politicians around the world today, especially in Europe.

The primary objective of the mission, according to Edelstein, is to highlight the importance of remembering the Holocaust and to “have a conversation with elected officials from around the world about what needs to be done to make sure nothing of the kind ever happens again, anywhere in the world, especially as far as Jews are concerned.”

Edelstein warns that anti-Semitism “is not just a Jewish or Israeli problem alone” and that while “it starts with the Jews, it doesn’t end with the Jews.”

(Photo courtesy: Jonny Daniels / From the Depths)
(Photo courtesy: Jonny Daniels / From the Depths)

The Israeli delegation will be joined by a large number of elected officials and parliamentarians from around the world, especially Europe, including Poland, Russia and Germany. It will be a “symbolic show of strength” that the fight against anti-Semitism is a “global struggle,” says Daniels.

According to Sam Nunberg, the Director of North American Outreach of From the Depths, the international delegation will also include a senior bi-partisan group of leaders from the U.S. Congress. They will be joined by a number of Holocaust survivors from North America, headed by Nobel Laureate and survivor, Elie Wiesel.

In addition to the Knesset session at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Edelstein, Lau and Wiesel will lead the delegation in a symbolic walk through the camp. A memorial service will then be held to mark the 70th Anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, before the singing of “Hatikva” and afternoon prayers.

About the Author
Arsen Ostrovsky is a leading international human rights lawyer and Middle East Foreign Policy analyst, based in Tel Aviv. In 2018, he was awarded the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize in ‘Israel Advocacy’, while the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) named him one of their ‘25 Most Influential People on Jewish Twitter’, where you can follow him at: Ostrov_A.