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Arafat, Auschwitz Convent Cloud Commemoration of Holocaust Day

Yom Hashoah Day events Monday night and Tuesday were overshadowed this year by two current events that many Israelis saw linked to the Holocaust: Yasir Arafat’s official visit to France and the ongoing controversy over the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.

Government leaders and public figures underscored their dismay over French President Francois Mitterrand hosting the Palestine Liberation Organization leader on Holocaust Day.

“A very grave mistake,” said Laborite Gad Ya’acobi, the minister of communications.

“This man Arafat follows in the tradition of the Nazis,” Premier Yitzhak Shamir himself noted bitterly, in a speech Monday night to the fourth international congress of the Hadassah Medicval Relief Association in Jerusalem.

The convent controversy was cited prominently at the central Holocaust memorial event at Yad Vashem on Monday night, and again at other services around the country Tuesday.

“We, the survivors of the ghettos, the concentration camps and the resistance, appeal to the Church to remove the shadow of the cross from Auschwitz,” said Moshe Mills, chairman of the Council of Organizations of Former Partisans.

President Chaim Herzog, Shamir and other dignitaries present looked somber as the partisan leader recalled the Vatican’s silence during the Holocaust years and argued that this imposed a particularly great obligation on the papacy now to remove the convent.

In an interview Friday in The Jerusalem Post, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, himself a Jewish-born Holocaust survivor, maintained that Chatholic-Jewish agreements for the eventual transfer of the convent to a new site beyond the concentration camp grounds would be implemented.

But he implied that local Polish Catholic resistance to the move was still an obstacle.

In Jerusalem, the B’nai B’rith local representative this week cited the UNESCO convention forbidding the alteration of historic sites, and said that Jewish groups would have recourse to the international agreement in their campaign against the convent.

SPECIAL TV DOCUMENTARY

One special commemoration in Israel was a television documentary featuring a visit to Poland by the brothers Naftali Lavie and Yisrael Lau.

Lavie is a former Israeli consul general in New York, now head of United Jewish Appeal in Israel, while his brother is chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a potential candidate for chief rabbi of Israel.

They returned together, last winter, to their home town of Pyotrokov, where their father was rabbi, and to the railway terminal from where most of their family were transported to their deaths in Treblinka.

They recounted the astounding tale of how Naftali, in his early teens, managed to save the younger Yisrael throughout their tribulations in hiding and in various concentration camps.

For many younger viewers, the film was a devastating first-hand account, by relatively young and well-known Israeli personalities, of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

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