Jerusalem, Israel - Jan. 24, 2020 - The 5th World Holocaust Forum was held in Jerusalem, Israel at Yad Vashem on Har Herzl on Thursday, January 23, 2020. World Holocaust Forum Foundation Chairman Dr. Moshe Kantor initiated and hosted gatherings four times in the past, but for the 75th year after the liberation of Auschwitz wanted a special event in Jerusalem. With the assistance of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and of Yad Vashem and its Chairman Avner Shalev, the response to this World Holocaust Forum was am overwhelming surprise.
Invitations from the Israeli President to world leaders resulted in close to 50 presidents, royals and international government leaders converging on Jerusalem. With unusually wet and wintry weather the number of delegations and accompanying media required extensive preparations.
An impressive press center was set up at Yad Vashem in the educational building by the Government Press Office. After a press conference in the morning, with Kantor and Shalev, survivors were interviewed by reporters, sharing their stories.
As she was interviewed.Rena Quint, a child survivor who has spoken internationally and at Yad Vashem of her lost childhood during the Holocaust was holding her biography "A Daughter of Many Mothers: Her Horrific Childhood and Wonderful Life" by Barbara Sofer.
Another child survivor, Walter Bingham, was also working as a journalist at Yad Vashem for the World Holocaust Forum. A witness to the book burnings and Kristallnacht as a young boy, Wolfgang Billig, was saved by being sent on the Kindertransport from Germany to England. As a British soldier in World War II, Billig decided to change his name to one less German in case he was captured but retained his initials - W.B. Besides being in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest working journalist at the age of 96, Bingham has a long list of accomplishments he is very proud of, including acting in Harry Potter movies, before making aliyah.
The speakers and musical interludes were in the main tent erected in Warsaw Plaza. The program began almost an hour late waiting for the Leningrad Memorial Dedication to end and those dignitaries to arrive. To one of the dignitaries, President Rivlin was heard saying, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau was the "Chief Rabbi of the World." After government leaders' speeches in Hebrew, English, Russian and French, Rabbi Lau spoke to the audience of the world leaders assembled first as a child survivor. Remembering his mother told him to continue the chain of tradition and never forget he was from a rabbinical dynasty.
On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, Rabbi Lau and his older brother Naftali Lavie z"l went back to Buchenwald for the first time. Rabbi Lau was then serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel. The 38th generation of distinguished rabbis, in spite of the horrors of the Holocaust - the link, horribly strained, was unbroken. Telling the world leaders that if the animals on Noah's ark could get along for 150 days, surely that humans should be able to also live in peace. From this gathering, light can come from Yerushalayim and spread throughout the world the Rabbi concluded.
At the press conference, before the ceremony began at Yad Vashem, WHF President Kantor and Yad Vashem Chairman Shalev answered a journalist's question concerning the President of Poland not attending along with the other world leaders.
Security units were organized and out in the morning for the afternoon event extending late until well after dark. Many residents in Jerusalem could not get to work and were complaining bitterly. Jerusalem streets were closed to vehicles and pedestrians when the motorcades of certain dignitaries were expected on the roads. The weather was clear for magnificent views of the Jerusalem Forest for TV reporters, then it was so foggy it became a solid white background. But as the sun went down, the Jerusalem sky was ablaze in bright hues of sunset.
Seventy-five years after the Allies defeated the Nazis, the German President stood at Yad Vashem at a World Holocaust Forum and began and ended his remarks in Hebrew with blessing of Shehecheyanu.
We Remember. Never Again.