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Photo Exhibition Held at UN Commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Dignitaries and officials at U.N. International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. (Credit: Judith Falk)

On January 24, an event commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day was held at the United Nations, organized by Israel’s mission to the U.N. together with Keren Kayameth LeIsrael—Jewish National Fund, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization. There were 37 countries with embassy representatives in attendance.

A photo exhibition entitled We’re Still Standing was shown, showcasing 35 photographic portraits of Holocaust survivors chosen from more than 450 original works.

The event also included The Power of Life book launch by The Lonka Project. The book is a commemorative volume by photojournalists Jim Hollander and Rina Castelnuevo, described by Hollander as “an international collaboration by over 310 professional photographers who documented Holocaust survivors in some 34 countries.”

Violinist Aron Frank performed, and a short documentary on Holocaust survivors who experienced the horrors of October 7 was shown.

The link between the Holocaust and the massacre of October 7 was emphasized throughout the evening. It was also lost on no one that the event was held at the U.N., viewed by many as a body which enables antisemitism.

In his opening remarks, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized that despite all of the persecution the Jewish people have endured throughout history, including October 7, we are a nation of unbreakable resilience and will rebuild towards a brighter future.

Specifically, Ambassador Erdan pointed out that International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated on January 27, the day in 1945 on which Auschwitz was liberated. Israel, however, chose to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 27th day of Nissan, the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and an act of incredible bravery.

Stated Ambassador Erdan, “It is precisely this resilience and courage that we are marking tonight. We are not measured by our ability to endure suffering, but our ability to rebuild our lives.”

Noting that on October 7 “the Jewish people suffered the most brutal massacre of Jews since the Holocaust,” Ambassador Erdan observed that “just like in the aftermath of the Holocaust, just like the stories told in this exhibition, the nation of Israel is rising up today like a phoenix from the ashes. We are rebuilding.”

Ambassador Erdan also reflected on the difficulties he faces in advocating for Israel. “When I stand here at the United Nations combating the lies and spreading the truth, fighting for Israel often seems like an impossible challenge.”

Painting a powerful image Ambassador Erdan noted that when he looks around the General Assembly he remembers that the ambassador of the Babylonian Empire no longer exists, and that the flag of the Roman empire does not wave outside the U.N. The Flag with the Star of David, however, still remains.

Concluded Ambassador Erdan, “This is our powerful message to our enemies. We are still standing. Many, many have tried to destroy us, but all have failed and fallen. And today will be no different.”

An equally powerful message was delivered by Holocaust survivor Nat Shaffir, who lost 32 members of his family in the Holocaust. Stated Shaffir, “Many powerful people and many powerful nations kept silent about the atrocities and genocide committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. We saw the unfortunate results.”

Continued Shaffir, “Today, the same powerful people, the same powerful nations, including the U.N., are again remaining silent.

“It’s our duty and responsibility to humanity to make sure that the atrocities committed by the Nazi butchers and the Hamas terrorists will never happen again.”

Addressing those in the room, Shaffir stated, “Many of you here are representing powerful governments. Please, do not remain silent.”

Regarding the book being launched, Chairwoman of KKL-JNF Yifat Ovaida Luski said, “On every page, in every picture, the lives that these amazing people created shine brightly. They created new families, they built new communities, and founded the State of Israel. They bought properties and built successful companies and businesses.”

Luski stated without hesitation that in the aftermath of the atrocities of October 7, we will once again rebuild and create life.

Compelling concluding remarks were given by David Yaari, vice chairman of KKL-JNF. Stated Yaari, “The United Nations was formed out of the ruins of World War II in the ashes of the Holocaust. We stand here today nearly 80 years later, and some of us are wondering silently but I’ll wonder out loud if we have internalized the lessons of the Holocaust. Are we standing at the U.N. today having lived up to the pledges we made those 80 years ago. Has the world joined the Jewish people with intention when repeating ‘Never Again.’

“The Jewish people will remain a strong nation that celebrates life, and not death. That is the message behind this exhibit. That is the message behind this book. That is the message of Nat Shaffir’s life. That is the message we say to the world ‘we are still standing,’ which means that no matter how, or who, tries to annihilate the Jewish people and our homeland Israel, we will remain strong and steadfast. We will survive.”

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook Group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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