BUENOS AIRES, May 25 (JTA) — For 24 Holocaust survivors, their meeting with Argentine President Fernando de la Rua was a unique moment.
“It gave me life. It made me feel real, authentic,” said Hanka Waserman, a survivor from Poland who has lived in Argentina for half a century.
“I could never have imagined a moment like this,” said Iashe Esterman, a survivor from Ukraine.
The survivors, all residents of Argentina, met de la Rua, his family, and the nation’s Cabinet members for lunch Wednesday at Government House. Also present were Jewish communal leaders and Israel’s ambassador to Argentina, Yitzhak Aviran.
During the lunch, de la Rua apologized for the nation’s postwar harboring of Nazi war criminals.
“In Argentina you have our utmost respect,” de la Rua told the survivors, who were received with full honors, with the nation’s ceremonial Grenadiers standing guard.
De la Rua personally gave each of the survivors a Presidential Medal.
“Through the survivors, de la Rua’s gesture was a tribute to all Holocaust victims,” said David Fleischer, president of the Holocaust Memory Foundation.
“The survivors’ lives in this country were strengthened by this gesture.”
During his first five months in office, de la Rua has made an effort to maintain good relations with the Jewish community.
In January, during his first trip abroad as president, he attended a Holocaust conference in Stockholm.
During that conference, which brought together representatives from 46 countries, de la Rua announced that Argentina would mark April 19, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, as a National Day of Living Together.