Dignitaries, young people, musicians and staff members formed a solemn audience for Geneva’s thought-provoking ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, on Tuesday 31 January, in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations.
The event, which was addressed by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and diplomatic representatives from Israel, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland, was a chance to reflect on the lessons of the past as a word to the wise for the future.
Heartfelt testimony of those dark days came from Agnes Hirschi, the daughter of Carl Lutz, the former Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest, who put his life on the line more than once to save thousands of Hungarian Jews through precariously issued identification documents. She spoke of night time calls to avert mass killings, sheltering in basements with no light or provisions and the thousands of souls sheltering in Budapest’s Glass House, then a Swiss administrative facility.
Two musical interludes, starring the talented family of singer Sarah Pagin, pianist Aimo Pagin and the violinist Silvia Marcovici, gave the audience a chance to reflect on what they had just heard. Haunting excerpts from “West Side Story”, “Les enfants du Ghetto” and “Dremlen Feygl”, added a new dimension to the quiet commemoration. Footage from “Schindler’s List”, in particular, left a lasting impressing with the audience.
On 1 February, the UN Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, organized a special event where students from local schools aged 13 to 15 were invited to view “The Last Flight of Petr Ginz,” the story of a young Czech Jew who kept a beautifully illustrated diary of life in 1941-42, managed to publish a regular magazine in the Terezin work camp and was sadly lost to Auschwitz before liberation. The 30 young visitors also had a chance to hear from Agnes Hirschi in a more informal setting and visit an exhibition on the work of Carl Lutz.