VIENNA (Jun. 21)
Delegates from several human rights groups attending the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights here made a solemn pilgrimage to the Mauthausen concentration camp this week, in a trip arranged by B’nai B’rith International.
The delegates were escorted through Mauthausen, the most notorious death camp in Austria, by Peter Fischer, counselor at the Interior Ministry and director of the site since 1985.
Fischer said the Nazis sent Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners and prisoners of war from all over Europe to Mauthausen.
Harris Schoenberg, B’nai Brith’s director of U.N. affairs, led a memorial service at a Jewish monument near a ravine where Jewish inmates were forced by Nazi SS guards to push one another off a cliff at a stone quarry at the edge of the camp.
“We came to this memorial to renew our vow that we will never give up the battle against bigotry, never be silent in the face of fanaticism,” Schoenberg said.
Jewish officials said they thought the Monday visit to the camp by human rights activists was particularly relevant at this time, when the world was witnessing ethnic cleansing and other human rights atrocities in the former republics of Yugoslavia.
In Vienna, the U.N. human rights conference entered its second week, but there was criticism by some people and organizations that the conference would do little to halt human rights violations in practice and that it was having little impact.
SHARANSKY LAMENTS WORLD APATHY
Already last week, Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet prisoner of Zion, lamented the world’s apathy to human rights violations and the apparent lack of interest generated by the conference in the world media.
“I am almost depressed watching this conference on human rights,” said Sharansky.
Sharansky, a guest of the World Jewish Congress, was referring to the fact that last week in a session of the U.N. conference, only two dozen delegates were listening to the speakers, while representatives of the non-government organizations were relegated to the cellar of the huge building, where they tried desperately to make their issues known.
“It is alarming how little impact a conference on human rights, which some 5,000 people attend and which took 25 years to materialize, has today, on the media and on the general public, even though the world is now in the process of creating a new order,” Sharansky said.
In a four-hour seminar sponsored by the WJC, Sharansky reminded the audience that his fight was successful only because the free Western world linked economic aid to progress on human rights.
“Please, do it again for all those struggling for freedom and democracy,” he said.
In an emotional appeal, Sharansky, who was in Soviet prison for nine years, exclaimed: “Do interfere in the republics of the former Soviet Union and anywhere else in cases of human rights violations — because it helps us, it helps those afflicted and tortured.”