At Holocaust commemoration in Cairo, survivor implores leaders to learn from history
The gathering, held at the German ambassador’s residence, featured Holocaust survivors and academics
At the second annual Holocaust commemoration event in Cairo, Egypt on Monday, survivor Ruth Cohen urged the roughly 150 dignitaries present to use their positions of influence to educate the public about history’s lessons and secure a safer future for the younger generations.
German Ambassador to Egypt Frank Hartmann hosted the gathering at his residence in the Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo. The event, held last year at a local hotel on the Nile River, was coproduced with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Chargé d’Affaires to Egypt Ambassador Daniel Rubinstein and Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron delivered remarks at the event, in addition to Ambassador Hartmann. The event later featured a cello performance by Kira Weiss who played Ernest Blotch’s Prayer From Jewish Life.
Rob Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, moderated a panel discussion with Cohen, as well as Egyptian Ain Shams University professor emeritus Dr. Nasser Kotby, who is the nephew of Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the first Arab to be honored as a Righteous Among the Nations; and Dervis Hizarchi, chairman of the Berlin-based Kreuzberger Initiative against Antisemitism.
“The Holocaust teaches us about human nature, that there is great capacity for good as well as for evil,” said Cohen, 92, an Auschwitz survivor who was born in Czechoslovakia and whose mother, brother and cousins were killed in the gas chambers.“ That when one group in a society is singled out for persecution, other groups are likely to be targeted too. In small and large ways each individual has the capacity to hurt or to heal, to savage or to save. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to know on today’s commemoration of the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is that Holocaust did not begin with Auschwitz, nor should it be solely defined by it. It began with words and small acts, then infinitely larger ones that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews.”
“As I look around the world, I see groups like the Yazidis, the Rohingya and Uighurs being persecuted and subject to incarceration, violence and even genocide,” Cohen continued. “I’m scared [by] the alarming rise in antisemitism and violent and deadly attacks on Jews in the US and elsewhere. It’s important to see the stunning denial of the Holocaust, and how the experiences of the survivors and victims are being distorted in the very place where it happened. I am so disheartened and sadly convinced that we have not learned the lessons of this history, my history, teaches. I implore everyone, especially those in leadership positions, to be motivated by this history. Use your authority and influence to push back against those who perpetuate the worst instincts in human behavior. Events like this one are important. They have educated about the importance of learning from history. Are you going to do what you can to ensure that everyone’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren don’t face the same atrocities? We can do better. We must do better. Shukran.”
Kotby said his life’s mission was to work for “love and compassion versus war, hate and prejudice.”
“I want to end my life working for this cause. And in front of you all, I am taking the first step. Who will meet me? Who will meet your view? I don’t see steps coming up, step forward,” he urged the audience, drawing members of the crowd to join him at the front of the room. “Step forward. Yes, we should work hard that peace and compassion and prosperity will prevail and hate and prejudice will end.”
In a similar vein, Hizarci emphasized the importance of interfaith friendship and dialogue. “We have to find ways how to come together and to solve the problems which targets and threatens all of us,” he said.
Hermann stressed that the memory of the Holocaust had become part of Germany’s collective identity. “We shall never forget our historic responsibility as Germans,” he said. “And it is our duty as a nation as and as humans, to keep the memory alive, and make sure that history does not repeat itself. Never forget, and never again. This has become a supreme priority of our education…and of our foreign policy.”
Last week, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi held a similar event at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates’ capital that featured remarks from Cohen and the UAE’s Minister for Culture and Youth Noura Al Kaabi.