Argentina’s Holocaust events poorly attended

BUENOS AIRES, April 22 (JTA) — Following the lead of President Fernando de la Rua, Argentina has begun commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day with a host of events in schools, religious institutions and an art gallery.

But some are complaining that last week’s events did not reach those who most need to learn about the Nazi-led genocide of 6 million Jews.

The classes held in schools throughout the country — in which students discussed issues of discrimination — were officially incorporated into the education curriculum last year by de la Rua, who dubbed the classes part of the “National Day of Living Together in Cultural Diversity.”

Since taking office in December 1999, de la Rua has worked to make the Holocaust a public issue.

On April 19, the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a two-day Holocaust forum was held in Buenos Aires. De la Rua proposed the forum during an international Holocaust education meeting last year in Stockholm.

Also, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has organized an exhibit at the Recoleta Cultural Center with photographs and information depicting the history of Nazi persecution of Jews from 1933 to 1945. The display was sponsored by the U.S., Israeli and German embassies here, as well as the Argentine government, and will stay up for three weeks.

But one of the two featured speakers at the Holocaust forum lamented that the gathering received scant attention in Argentina, whose 230,000 Jews constitute the largest Jewish community in Latin America.

“It’s not enough to speak to those who are already very familiar with the Holocaust,” renowned writer Marcos Aguinis said, noting the empty chairs throughout the auditorium.

He said the organizers, which included government agencies, should have done a better job at getting media coverage.

“Not even the state-run news organizations are here,” he said.

JTA was the only accredited media organization covering the event, which included eight workshops on an array of issues related to the Holocaust, including survivors’ testimonies.

Similar frustration was expressed a few days earlier at a session to train more than 500 teachers on how to teach the Day of Living Together. The session included a video put together by the Holocaust Memory Foundation, which has organized the first Holocaust museum in Latin America.

Fewer than 50 teachers showed up for the workshop.

“It’s a continuing struggle to put this into full motion,” foundation President David Fleischer told JTA. “But we are making a lot of progress and getting a lot of results. The forum is a starting ground. We expect to expand the reach not only in Argentina but also in Latin America.”

At the John F. Kennedy public school in Buenos Aires, history teacher Cristina Rins taught the cultural diversity class to 26 high school seniors.

The class began with a discussion about cultural diversity and discrimination, focusing first on current and past ethnic relations in Argentina. After a video was shown, the students talked about the Holocaust and discrimination.

“I try to make them think about how these issues impact them in their daily lives,” Rins said, “how they relate to each other in class and in their communities, the language they use.”

Since de la Rua took office 15 months ago, he has spoken out on the Holocaust several times.

De la Rua’s first trip as president, a month after taking office, was to Stockholm for the January 2000 Holocaust Forum. Shortly afterward, he welcomed a group of survivors for lunch with his family and most of his Cabinet.

He also has apologized for Argentina’s role in harboring Nazi war criminals during and after World War II. During his first trip to the United States, last June, he visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The Shoah Museum, the first of its kind in Latin America, will soon open its first permanent exhibit. The Holocaust Memory Foundation, which runs the museum, also organizes survivors’ testimonies in schools and other community groups.

After World War II, more than 8,000 Holocaust survivors settled in Argentina. Around 1,500 remain alive today.

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