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Virtual Events and the Memory of the Holocaust

Virtual Events and the Memory of the Holocaust

Makor Rishon, Israel, January 28

This may sound a bit cynical, but to some extent, the coronavirus crisis has helped to promote International Holocaust Remembrance Day in an extraordinary way: More and more events have taken place over the past few weeks and Holocaust memorial bodies and organizations managed to attract leading speakers in the field, who would otherwise be unavailable. For example, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky inaugurated a new monument in Babi Yar, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivered remarks remotely, using a digital screen. From the comfort of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, he spoke directly to the Ukrainian leadership and the entire Ukrainian people. Rivlin then attended another event with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and European Council President Charles Michel. Steinmeier and Rivlin even had a separate diplomatic conversation, in which the German president promised to “never again” allow the horror of the Holocaust to repeat itself. Rivlin was also the keynote speaker at the main event held by the Foreign Ministry, which was live-streamed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic. The ceremony was attended by many senior officials, including Rivlin, the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Czech President Miloš Zeman, and Israeli government officials. Had the event been held in person, it would have not only cost a great deal of money but it would have also precluded many dignitaries from attending due to scheduling constraints. Rivlin also attended the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Auschwitz extermination camp, along with Steinmeier and Polish President Andrzej Duda. Rivlin is an example of a leader who managed to carve out a meaningful spot for himself on the global arena thanks to these virtual conferences. His attendance at many of these conferences would have been less likely just a year ago, before the outbreak of the virus. The European Parliament also hosted a major event, attended by European Parliament President David Sassoli, along with representatives from the Jewish world. The ceremony concluded with a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and the cantor of the Great Synagogue of Europe, Israel Miller, delivered a prayer. The chief rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, also participated in this event without having to leave his home in Moscow. It should be noted that this is the first time that the head of a Jewish organization has been invited to speak before parliament on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it is questionable whether this would have happened had the event been held in person. There is no doubt that there is no substitute for physical participation in one of these events, and exactly a year ago, I participated in the main ceremony in Auschwitz, which left a deep impression on me. On the other hand, most people in the world are not fortunate enough to attend the ceremonies and events in person. Therefore, the coronavirus and digitalization of global events and conferences dramatically change the equation for them. Of course, we all hope to return to the “old way” of having events take place in person. But we must not ignore the great progress of the past year at making major events more accessible and equitable while spreading the important message of Holocaust remembrance. –Tzvika Klein (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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