International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at President's Residence
International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at President's Residence Photo: GPO

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, First Lady of Israel Michal Herzog and First Lady of Germany Elke Büdenbender hosted Holocaust survivor Charles Siegman on Wednesday evening for a virtual “Zikaron BaSalon” (Remembrance in the Living Room).

Joining the live event, which was broadcast on President Isaac Herzog’s Facebook page, were representatives of the Jewish Student Union Germany and Haifa University’s Holocaust Studies program. Also joining the event were Germany’s ambassador in Israel, Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer; the wife of Israel’s ambassador in Germany, Ms. Laura Kam; and second-generation Holocaust survivor and activist Leah Schenirer.

Mrs. Herzog opened the event by saying: “The fact that we are leading this Zikaron BaSalon event together, with the First Lady of Germany, shows more than anything else that there is hope and that together we can bring a better future. Such an important initiative puts an emphasis on remembering and not letting the stories of the past be forgotten, but rather keeping the memories alive.”

Mrs. Büdenbender, wife of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, joined the event from Berlin and said: “We need to keep up the memory, we need to keep the stories of the Holocaust survivors and the stories of all the victims alive. We must never forget.”

Holocaust survivor Charles Siegman then shared his personal testimony from the Holocaust, accompanied by his wife Gita Siegman. Mr. Siegman was born in the Netherlands in 1935, the youngest of five children. During the war, his parents decided to separate their children to try to protect them. His parents and two eldest brothers were murdered in Auschwitz in 1943. Mr. Siegman and two siblings were deported to Westerbork and then Theresienstadt.

Charles Siegman said, “For many survivors, their war experiences presented a challenge to their faith. Where was God? Why did He allow this to happen? But the question should be: Where was civilized man? The Nazis were determined to destroy not only the Jewish people but Judaism itself. Abandoning my faith would have meant giving the Nazis a victory.”

Mr. Siegman added: “It is essential that the world remembers the Holocaust. This is urgent as the survivors will not be with us much longer to bear witness. It is frightening to know that there are people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened. I am witness today. I urge you to take the role of being a witness about the Shoah in the years to come. After the war, antisemites went underground for a while, but now there is a widespread public resurgence of antisemitism, which spills over into anti-Israel propaganda and hate.”

The First Ladies then held an open conversation with Mr. Siegman and opened the discussion up to questions from the students.

“Zikaron BaSalon” is an Israeli tradition of informal, intimate gatherings on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah. The initiative aims to transform discourse from one of survival to one of tikkun olam—the Jewish principle of repairing the world. Over the coming week, hundreds of Zikaron BaSalon events will take place all around the world, including in Bahrain, Britain, China, India, and Germany, where diplomats, students, and young people will hear Holocaust survivors’ testimonies.

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