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Commemorating Holocaust Victims at UN, Survivor Warns It Could Happen Again

The current explosion in global antisemitism is reminiscent of the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe before the start of the World War II, Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman of New York tells The Media Line.

“Hitler started with words and words are powerful and words are dangerous and we know words killed six million and that’s very scary,” says Polish-born Brandman, who spent two years as a prisoner in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Of her family of seven, only Brandman and one of her two brothers survived the war. Her parents and her three sisters all died. Brandman was 14 when the camp was liberated by Soviet Red Army troops, and soon after was reunited with her older brother Mendek, who had been imprisoned in a forced labor camp.

Asked if she believes something akin to the Holocaust could happen in the United States, Brandman answers in the affirmative.

“It seems impossible but I believe you encounter antisemitism in so many different areas. I think everything is possible,” she says.

“It happened in the most advanced country in the world at the time, why could it not happen again? I am very scared,” she added. “It’s free to be antisemitic, and there is huge fear that it might recur again.”

Antisemitism is “mushrooming,” Brandman warns. “Who knows where it will lead.”

The Holocaust survivor cites what she says is overwhelming bias against Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, at the United Nations.

“We know what’s going on at the UN, our UN, how they are decrying Israel and accusing Israel, always singling out Israel,” she says. “The whole world combined doesn’t get as much criticism as Israel gets, and it seems so painful that human beings can be so destructive.”

Brandman says she has a message for the younger generation who have scant knowledge of the evil perpetrated by the Nazis. “Words can kill, words are powerful. Racism and hatred are powerful and they can kill. Who knows, we could be killing a future [Albert] Einstein or a future [polio vaccine creator Jonas] Salk.”

The 92-year-old retired schoolteacher is set to be a special guest at a ceremony at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Thursday, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to unveil a massive book bearing the names of every identified Jewish Holocaust victim.

The Book of Names contains 4.8 million names in total, with empty pages at the back in honor of the unidentified 1.2 million who also perished at the hands of the Nazis.

The 2-meter-by-8-meter book is the brainchild of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, which this year marks its 70th anniversary. Its chairman, Dani Dayan, will be at Thursday’s ceremony in the foyer of the UN headquarters in New York, along with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan. Donors who helped to make the book a reality and other dignitaries also will be in attendance.

Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman exposes the number tattooed on her arm in Auschwitz as she looks through the Book of Names listing 4.8 million victims of the Nazis, at United Nations headquarters in New York on Jan. 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

“This important exhibition is a call to remembrance: to remember each child, woman and man who perished in the Holocaust as a human being with a name and a future that was stolen away,” Gueterres said of the book. “And it is a call to action: to always be vigilant and never stay silent when human rights and human dignity are under threat.”

Brandman’s own lost family members appear among the names, which are listed in alphabetical order along with place and year of birth and place of death.

“The book is here and it demonstrates the fact that my parents, all the people in my circle who perished … will remain,” she tells The Media Line. “This will clarify that these people were living, breathing, dreaming human beings and they were murdered. So, I am overwhelmed; I think what Yad Vashem produced, [to] what distinguished guests on Thursday have contributed, is just mind-boggling and I am profoundly grateful.”

Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman, her daughter and Alexander Avram of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem inspect the Book of Names listing 4.8 million victims of the Nazis, at United Nations headquarters in New York on Jan. 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Brandman, who during her TML interview is already at UN headquarters, breaks off the Zoom conversation to express her delight as a member of the building’s security team begins leafing through the more than 1,550 pages of the tome.

The book will remain in the UN headquarters for three weeks before it is taken to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Alexander Avram, the director of the center’s Hall of Names and the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, told The Media Line. It will be unveiled in Israel on April 17, the eve of the country’s own Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The book is “a concrete, tangible memorial; something that people can touch, can feel,” Avram says. “Everybody can see it as a memorial to the Holocaust victims and we think it is very important for it to be exhibited here.”