Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

Marching for Life in Argentina

Argentina. The magical land of tango, coffee, meat, endless countryside and beautiful people. Just landing in Buenos Aires, making one’s way to its oldest area San Telmo is an amazing ride. What is there not to love? Certainly it would be so but one’s perspective is always a little bit different depending on the mood and the reason for being anywhere. As a Holocaust/anti-Semitism speaker, I am always aware of my surroundings – in a different way.

Recently I toured Argentina. I spoke at synagogues, churches, public venues and schools. The reception everywhere was amazing. I could never ever have imagined that teenagers would treat me like a celebrity after I spoke about Anne Frank. It just usually does not happen but here it was an unbelievable welcome. One of the highlights of my time was participating in Marcha de la Vida, March of Life in the town of Dean Funes near the larger city of Cordoba.

The march is, as some readers will know, the brainchild of Pastor Jobst Bittner and Mrs. Charlotte Bittner. Originally descendants of SS and Wermacht were marching near Holocaust monuments. Pastor Bittner wrote a book The Veil of Silence. How our past, in this case the Nazi past, if not repented for and spoken about, will engulf entire families and churches, from generation to generation in its evil. Many of the third and fourth generations¬† in Germany have repented. Pastor Bittner’s work is well-known and recognized by now. So much so that the March of Life has spread all over the globe. It was my honor to be one of the candle-lighters in Dean Funes just a few days ago.

Local repentance means different things in different nations. The unbearable ease with which Nazi war criminals made their way to post-war Argentina (and how impossible it was to get any of these fugitives to face justice) was spoken about and repented of. I was pleased to hear this. And then came the AMIA attack of 1994 against a major Jewish target. The terrorist attack was murderous, a very large one, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds. But that is not everything. Recently, the prosecutor investigating parts of the case Alberto Nishman was murdered in his home, though he lived under police guard. Nishman was investigating the financial connections between the terrorists and powerful political elements in Argentina. So it is not history, not something to be lamented for in the past tense. People get murdered because 1994 is present and the prosecutor’s findings would endanger someone’s career. I am glad that AMIA was mentioned in the March of Life.

March of Life in Dean Funes hosted by young people attracted large groups of school children; older people; Jews and Christians. Common hope of fighting anti-Semitism and racism is important and was clearly identified as goal of the march. Very young people were exposed to new ideas from the past and concerning the future. In the end we lighted candles together. As always in these events, promises and pledges were made. Never again. Something like the Holocaust should not happen ever again.

I always feel a little fear, discomfort and coldness in my heart when I hear these words. I do believe that at the moment of saying it everyone sincerely means what they say. I also believe in a G-d of hope and future using men for His purposes.

But in our world, where human life is cheap, perhaps more so than ever in history, what do we mean to do? If the March raises that question, perhaps for the first time for someone, then, from my point of view,  it has accomplished its purpose.

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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