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Commemorating the Holocaust in Istanbul

The Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Hungary organized a two-day event in Istanbul on Holocaust and Holocaust education. The event included semi-academic panel and musical performance by Hungarian artists including the well-known Budapest Klezmer Band.

Hungary is the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) this year. The Hungarian Consulate in Istanbul organized a two-day event on October 7-8th in Istanbul on Holocaust and Holocaust education. Chief Rabbi of the Turkish Community Isak Haleva, Ambassador of Hungary Gabor Kiss, Israeli Chargee d’Affaires Amira Oron, Consul General of Hungary Balazs Hendrich, Consul General of Israel Shai Cohen, Deputy Consul General Shira Ben Tzion and the President of the Turkish Jewish Community Ishak Ibrahimzadeh were among the guests of this event which took place at Kadir Has University, Cibali campus.

The event started with the speech of Counsel General of Hungary Balazs Hendrich. He thanked everyone for all their efforts to make this organization possible and invited the crowd to a one-minute silence to honor Arpad Goncz, Hungary's first post-Communist president who passed away a day earlier.  
Gul Buyukersen Oral from Turkish Foreign Ministry IHRA delegation stressed the importance Turkey puts on preventing the reoccurrence of the Holocaust. She said that Turkey is firmly committed to combat racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. She reminded that Turkey organized many events on Holocaust in 2015, including the International Holocaust Remembrance day on January 27th, commemoration of the victims of Struma for the first time on February, and the reopening of the Edirne Synagogue on March. She talked about Selahattin Ulkumen, the consul-general of Rhodes who managed to save many Jews by giving them Turkish passport but lost his wife when German planes bombed the Turkish consulate. She stressed the fact that the Turkish Jews fought in Canakkale and Sarikamis to save the country from enemy and emphasized the importance of the Turkish Jews for the society and to the development of the country. She ended her speech by saying, “Turkey will remain safe harbor for vulnerable people, oppressed people.”
Professor Ahmet K. Han from Kadir Has University stressed the importance of empathy. Gustave Gilbert, American psychologist at Nuremberg concluded that the reason why the Nazi leadership was able to commit such unspeakable atrocities lied with their utter lack of empathy. They did not see the victims as fellow human beings but a sub-human category of creatures. His findings show us how ordinary people can turn into cruel monsters. Han concluded his speech by saying that our sole duty to the mankind is to avoid such tragedies and always preserve empathy.
Ambassador of Hungary Gabor Kiss said Hungary failed to protect its people during the Holocaust. “We learned from history that anti-Semitism must be recognized in time. Thanks God our Jewish community survived. It is our responsibility, our moral duty to not tolerate anti-Semitism.”
Israeli historian Prof. Gideon Greif explained the uprising in Birkenau started the same day the conference was held, 71 years ago. Sonderkommando uprising in 1944 was the revolt of the convicts working in gas chambers and crematoriums. “The revolt of those people living and working in the upmost inhuman conditions shows that hope dies last,” and he said “no dictatorship can last forever.”
The President of the Turkish Jewish Community Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, shared his personal thoughts on why and how we chose to create an afterlife, a resurrection from death. He started with emphasizing that “today, 70 years after the Holocaust, we still feel the blow to our heads and the pain in our hearts knowing that Isaac was indeed sacrificed within the gas chambers of humanity. Yet, we realized that though we all died in Auschwitz, our faith survived. So in the darkness of hell, we found again sparks that would create messages of hope for our children. Our history has been shot through with tragedy, yet we never lost the capacity to rejoice, to celebrate in the heart of darkness, to sing the Lord’s song even in a strange land. Our faith is not one of accepting destiny, nor have we tended to seek a risk-free life.” Pointing to the drama the refugees suffer today, Ibrahimzadeh asked if we have sincerely understood the human message of the Holocaust. “Are we living in a world that says NEVER AGAIN?” he asked. He concluded his words with “Let’s make sure that while we are learning the teachings of the Holocaust, we shall not be indifferent in acting to the sufferings of our times and not wait until the pain comes to our door just because it’s becoming a threat to our comfort.”
The event included semi-academic, interactive discussion with the participation of Salih Bıcakci from Kadir Has University, Mehmet Ali Tugtan from Bilgi University, Esra Danacioglu from Yildiz Teknik University, and James McMillan from ENKA School Adapazarı. The panel was moderated by Zulfu Livaneli.
In his speech Prof. Bıcakci discussed some of the advantages of forgetting in order to survive. “Holocaust is a human story, full of sentiments. It has to be seen as a problem of alienation, dehumanization. We have to know ‘the other’,” he said. Prof. Tugtan talked about his experience in Yad Vashem and emphasized the need to put life to the centre. Prof. Danacioglu explained the story of three boats who could not reach their destination, Palestine, during the World War II; Mefkure, Struma, and Salvador. Mr. McMillan stressed the importance of the Holocaust education at an early age. Holocaust education in Turkey starts at the university level. Mr. Livanelisaid that art is a powerful way to explain and educate the masses on Holocaust as people can identify themselves easier through the story of the characters in a book or movie. Holocaust must not be forgotten he added and he told a story Shimon Peres, the former president of Israel once told him. “A Rabbi asks his students, how can you understand that the sun has risen? The students gave him different answers. At the end he says, ‘When a black man and a white man says good morning to each other, that morning the sun has risen’.” The panel continued with the Q&A section where the students from ENKA School shared their impressions and feelings in Auschwitz.  
During the panel, the Kalaka Group famous for their songs for children in Hungary performed musical pieces titled ‘Once Upon A Time A Little Jew’, consisting of mainly old Yiddish songs from Hungary and Transylvania based on the collection of Mr. Sándor Kányádi. Israeli caricaturist Michel Kichka's first graphic novel, ‘Second Generation – Things I Never Told My Father’ was presented to all the guests. This graphic story is about the childhood of Kichka, the son of a Holocaust survivor, in the shade of the trauma of the Shoah. The first day ended with a kosher dinner reception.
On the second day of the event, the world-known Budapest Klezmer Band had a musical performance at Neve Shalom Synagogue. Budapest Klezmer Band whose performance is an exciting musical experience in traditional Jewish folklore, transferred the audience back to now extinct joyous times in Central and Eastern Europe, when traditional Jewish music was part of the community's cultural fabric.
The two-day event included the exhibition ‘Architecture of Synagogues in Central and Eastern Europe between 1782-1944’ based on the book of Rudolf Klein and the private collection of gravures of Sylvio Ovadya, former president of the Turkish Jewish Community, ‘Jewish Costumes in the Ottoman Empire.’

Hungary has taken over the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) from the United Kingdom in March 2015 and will assume the Chairmanship of IHRA till March 2016, when it will hand over the Chairmanship duties to Romania. The Hungarian Chairmanship announced that it endeavours to put combating anti-Semitism, Holocaust education and awareness-raising about the Holocaust to the centre of her chairmanship, together with further strengthening the visibility of the Alliance. Turkey is an observer country and wants to become full member of the Alliance.

Karel Valansi Şalom Gazetesi 14 October 2015

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