The six years he spent in Nazi concentration camps, including two at Auschwitz, between the ages of 16 and 22, left Ernest Michel with a major goal. “When I was in the camps I had a dream that someday we would. all be able to come together as one and say to Jews and non-Jews all over the world that what happened to us must never happen again in human history,” he said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Michel, who is executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, said he believes this dream will be fulfilled with a gathering of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children in Israel June 15-18, 1981.
“This event will say” that the Holocaust must never reoccur, Michel said. “As such I believe it will be a unique event in Jewish history. It is something we owe to the memory of those who didn’t survive and to ourselves.”
At a press conference today at 515 Park Avenue officially announcing the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Michel added that the four-day gathering is also something owed to “future generations.” The gathering was also announced at press conferences today in Paris and Melbourne, it was reported here.
Michel is chairman of the World Gathering, which will be held under the patronage of Israeli Premier Menachem Begin. Author Elie Wiesel, chairman of the U.S. President’s Commission on the Holocaust, and Simone Veil, president of the European Parliament, are honorary chairmen.
At the press conference today, Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the World Jewish Congress and a member of the World Gathering’s executive committee, said that the conference come at a “symbolic” moment when, “as in the time of Hitler,” not only Israel and the Jewish people are threatened “but all mankind.”
Sultanik, a member of the underground in Poland during World War II, said that after the Holocaust the survivors believed that “anti-Semitism would vanish and that the State of Israel would be secure within defensible borders and in turn provide security for the Jews of the diaspora.” But he said the United Nations General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism demonstrated that “the blatantly biased majority of Arab petrodollars and Soviet-dominated delegates seek to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
A statement was read from Wiesel, who was in Washington reporting on his recent visit, to Cambodia, in which the Holocaust survivor noted that “Only in remembering what has happened to our brothers and sisters under the Nazi oppression can we expect to be able to remind and advise the rest of the world how to prevent another catastrophe. Only in remembering what happened to us can the world assure that it will not happen to others.”
EVENT WILL NOT BE REPEATED
In his interview with the JTA, Michel said that the idea for the gathering originated in talks he had over the years with members of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, a kibbutz made up of survivors of Buchenwala. The talks have been expanded in the last two years to include survivor groups in the United States and elsewhere.
Michel said the decision to hold the gathering in 1931 was made because this would be the 36th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, which is twice Chai (18), the Jewish symbol of life. “It will be a celebration of life,” he said.
This will be an event that will not be repeated, Michel noted, since most of the survivors are in their 60s or 70s. He said the entire event is being run by survivors who make up the executive committee. There is also an international leadership committee made up of heads of Jewish communities and Jewish leaders.
Michel said the World Gathering will begin at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He said survivors will be asked to bring a tape recording telling of their experiences which will be deposited at Yad Vashem. In addition, they are asked to bring a rock or stone from their countries which will be made into a “monument of those who lived, dedicated to those who died.”
Other planned events include a march through Jerusalem of the survivors to the Western Wall; simultaneous meetings at three kibbutzim founded by Holocaust survivors, Netzer Sereni, Lochamei Haghettoot, and Yod Mordechai; the collection and exhibition of personal Holocaust keepsakes brought to the gathering; and a rally at Ramat Gan Stadium where a “Written Testament to Future Generations” will be signed by all survivors and presented to the second generation. There will also be special programs for children and grand-children of survivors.
Michel said that no one knows how many survivors are still alive, although the estimates are several hundred thousand. He said he believes 10,000-15,000 people may come to the 1981 gathering, which would make it the largest number of persons to come to Israel for a single event. He said one result of the conference, hopefully, is the putting together of a list of survivors.
Meanwhile, Michel is concerned with informing as many Holocaust survivors as possible about the event. Committees have been established in South Africa, France, Belgium, Venezuela and Australia, and in several U.S. cities, he said. Information can be obtained by writing to the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, I Park Avenue, Suite 418, New York, N.Y. 10016 or at any World Jewish Congress office abroad.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.