Eyes wide shut

Eyes wide shut

Last Friday morning, about ‘,000 people — Holocaust survivors, their families and friends, U.N. diplomats, and others — gathered in New York to commemorate the U.N.’s first observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 61 years after the fact.

They watched incredulously as two Holocaust survivors, Roman Kent of the American Gathering and Gerda Weissman Klein, stood in the very same place where a gun-toting Yasser Arafat once stood as he was turned from terrorist into "statesman." They talked about stopping hatred and genocide because they knew the heavy price humanity pays for such crimes.

Those present realized they were packed into the same room where the heinous resolution Zionism=Racism was passed and accomplished its goals of spreading anti-Semitism deep into the Third World. They were standing in the very chamber where Israel had been condemned time and time again for defending itself against its enemies.

The event was successful because of hard work by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and other non-governmental agencies working closely with Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor.

The organizers’ greatest fear was that on a weekday morning, erev Shabbat, in the dead of winter, with all the snowbirds in Florida, the hall would not be filled. An empty hall would be a rebuke to the 6 million and turned into a joke or worse by Holocaust deniers. Messages went out over the Internet, and popular Websites put banners up. People made phone calls, sent post cards, pleaded from the pulpit. The organizers worked hard to fill the hall, and they realized they succeeded when phone calls and e-mails began flooding their offices.

In the week before the event, hundreds were told they could not attend for lack of space. It was feared there would be an uproar at the U.N. entrance if all the people who wanted to be there couldn’t be accommodated.

The huge turnout was a slap in the face of the Iranian president who insists the Holocaust is a myth and wants Israel wiped off the map. He is, after all, seeking nuclear technologies and possesses rockets that will allow him to target any one of his enemies in a 1,300-mile range. That includes Israel, France, Spain, Turkey, Jordan, and a host of other "enemies."

A mass of people showing up at the United Nations was a form of resistance to him and his ilk. These people came to remember the victims of the Holocaust, and as all the speakers — including Dr. Yehuda Bauer, the noted Holocaust scholar, and Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman — made clear, we must stop the hate.

Eager to see how this all turned out in the press, when organizers searched Google, they were sorely disappointed. The only wire service that got the story right was, of all news agencies, Reuters, and few publications had picked up the story. No New York Times, no Washington Post, no networks, no CNN or Fox. The wire service from India, Rediff, got it wrong. It mixed up the big event with a candlelight vigil in the lobby attended by ’00 Jewish leaders the night before and reported that ’00 people showed up last Friday to light six candles in the General Assembly. The editors were referred to the U.N. Website, where the video of a packed hall and the entire ceremony is located (http://www.un.org/webcast/SE’005.html), yet they weren’t willing to correct the error after they were called on it.

Two hours later, Aljazeera.com jumped all over the "’00" number and declared in a headline that the U.N. was manipulated (http://www.aljazeera.com/cgi-bin/news_service/middle_east_full_story.asp?service_id1051′).

"This is a muted triumph," said Kent, a survivor of Auschwitz and Flossenburg concentration camps. "It’s 61 years too late. But it’s very important to have this at U.N. headquarters, especially now."

Despite best efforts, mainstream news organizations, the eyes of the world, shut them to this event, to what is essentially the final "en masse" public warning from the Holocaust survivors. They know better than most when danger looms. And they sense it now. But those who can make a real difference, like the media, don’t seem to care.

Holocaust fatigue, you know. No need to waste ink. Better to do a segment on an accidental S&M death in Westchester (Fox5 10 p.m. news).

Hannah Arendt and Elie Wiesel and others have warned us repeatedly: Not caring, not seeing, is dangerous. No one cared while the Holocaust was going on, no one cares about current genocides, and certainly eyes are shut tight when it comes to figuring out what happens next in a world where lunatics get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

On the same day the Jews and their friends packed the U.N. General Assembly Hall, a U.N. diplomat involved in negotiations to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Mohamed El Baradei, urged the Bush administration to hand over nuclear power plants to Iran. The next day, Russia’s Vladimir Putin decided to expand Iran’s enriched uranium program, and Hamas said it will never recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Go figure.