At the far east end of 47th Street in Manhattan, between 2nd and 1st Avenues a broad lovely park leads up to the United Nations complex of buildings on the East River. A farmer’s market is set up every Wednesday throughout the year.
a market and plaza to rally against genocide
This broad space is known as Katharine Hepburn Garden in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. As often as possible I walk Debbie most of the way to her office, buy produce at the farmers’ market, then, with my bags slung over my shoulders, I walk the mile back up to our apartment.
On September 22, 2008 when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations, the Jewish community organized a “Stop Iran” demonstration in the park. I made a point of being there. Young people were bussed in from day schools around the area and others flew or were flown in from Canada and as far away as Baltimore and Chicago.
In the 1960s and 1970s when you attended a rally you wore a lapel button that indicated how you felt. However, while a few buttons were distributed at the “Stop Iran” rally, very few of the couple-thousand people who may have been packed into the park and the surrounding streets that morning wore their buttons. They were there expressing their concern about a world leader who denies that the genocide against the Jews during World War II occurred and threatens to commit genocide in our own day against the people of the State of Israel.
A few days later on September 25, a different coalition organized a demonstration to call attention to the genocide in Darfur. I made a point of being there as well. No official Jewish presence, not even AJWS, was visible. In fact there were barely 50 people in attendance the entire time.
five sqaure columns, a blue sphere, paving stones and a bronze briefcase
I did not know this at the time. I only learned about it because I made a concerted search. The location at the east end of this park between the park and the United Nations is dedicated to someone who did all he could to stop genocide. And then he disappeared into the Soviet Gulag system. On a tiny island in the middle of 1st Ave. five tall columns of black diabase, mined from the Swedish bed-rock stand in a field of paving stones taken from the former Ghetto in (and as a gift from the City of) Budapest. The briefcase has the initials RW on it. There is no explanation for the blue sphere. The monument (a park in his honor exists in Queens), titled “Hope”, was commissioned by the Swedish consulate and created by Swedish sculptor Gustav Kraitz.
who was Raoul Wallenberg?
On each of the columns a small amount of text is carved:
Dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg a Swedish diplomat born in 1912, who was stationed in Budapest, Hungary 1944–45
Displaying great caring and ingenuity, Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of countless Hungarian Jews by placing them under the protection of the Swedish Government “I could never return to Stockholm, knowing that I had failed to do everything within human power to save as many Jews as possible” ‑Raoul Wallenberg …Raoul Wallenberg, with extraordinary courage and with total disregard for the constant danger to himself, saved the lives of almost one hundred thousand men, women, and children…. — From the 1981 Joint Resolution of Congress, making Raoul Wallenberg an Honorary Citizen of the United States On January 17 1945 Raoul Wallenberg was detained and imprisoned by the Soviet government His fate remains unknown.
As a world-traveled 32 year-old businessman, one might almost call him an adventurer, from a wealthy and illustrious Swedish family with business connections in Hungary, Raoul Wallenberg was sent (in an effort of the American government’s War Refugee Board and perhaps as an under cover agent of a top secret intelligence agency) to join the Swedish legation in Budapest. It was hoped that he would do something to save the lives of Jews being deported to their deaths.
Raoul walked the walk
How do you decide what is appropriate for you as an individual to do in response to a crisis of horrific proportions? Raoul Wallenberg’s activities in Budapest are so outstanding (I find it a bit odd that there has not been a Hollywood movie about his exploits) that I repeat the story here rather than merely link to it [the text comes from the Wikipedia page about him]:
On July 9, 1944, Wallenberg travelled to Budapest as the First Secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest. Together with fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger, he issued “protective passports” (German:Schutz-Pass), which identified the bearers as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus prevented their deportation. Although not legal, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities, who sometimes were also bribed. The Swedish legation in Budapest also succeeded in negotiating with the Germans so that the bearers of the protective passes would be treated as Swedish citizens and be exempt from having to wear the yellow Star of David on their chests. With the money raised by the [mh: war refugee?] board, Wallenberg rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up signs such as “The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute” on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings to bolster the deception. The buildings eventually housed almost 10,000 people. Sandor Ardai, one of the drivers working for Wallenberg, recounted what Wallenberg did when he intercepted a trainload of Jews about to leave for Auschwitz:
…he climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colours. I don’t remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it.
At the height of the program, over 350 people were involved in the rescue of Jews. Sister Sára Salkaházi was caught sheltering Jewish women and was killed by members of the Arrow Cross Party. Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz also issued protective passports from the Swiss embassy in the spring of 1944; and Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca posed as a Spanish diplomat and issued forged visas.
On July 10, 2009 I made a point of visiting the Hope memorial on my way to a different errand. As I continued on my walk down 1st Ave, a few blocks south, beside the Isaiah Wall in Ralph Bunche Park, across the street from UN headquarters I came upon…
ושפט בין הגוים, והוכיח לעמים רבים; וכתתו חרבותם לאתים, וחניתותיהם למזמרות–לא-ישא גוי אל-גוי חרב, ולא-ילמדו עוד מלחמה
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This quote has been part of my personal story since my earliest years. I have sung it to many melodies and, I believe, worked to bring it about. Yet, when I think of the efforts of others, I wonder, what have I done to help? These were among my thoughts as I returned home, again via the “Hope” memorial.
how many people need to die for “killings” or “massacres” to rise to the level of genocide?
There, at the eastern edge of the Plaza facing Wallenberg’s pillars of hope a group of people held up beautiful blue and white flags calling attention to attacks against their diasporic people. A meager demonstration was held, calling attention to the plight of the Uygur minority in Western China.
in a Tuesday, 14 July 2009 story at the BBC…
There is still a heavy military presence on the streets of Urumqi
China has demanded that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan retract his accusation that Beijing practised genocide against ethnic Uighurs. Mr Erdogan made the claim after riots in the Uighur heartland of Xinjiang during which 184 people were killed.
The demonstration had been organized by the Uyghur American Association which distributed a few leaflets and background information on the situation (from their point of view). In the literature were links to disturbing videos on YouTube:
- Tensions are overflowing in the streets of Urumqi with several violent attacks Wednesday. Anger is high on both sides of the ethnic divide between Han and Uighur groups after the most violent riots…
- Troops have flooded China’s western Xinjiang region to enforce a curfew after days of heightened tensions between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese in the capital, Urumqi. More than 150 people have b…
Perhaps hundreds of Uyghur people have been killed in the recent struggle. From the little I’ve read, it seems that the Han Chinese have instituted a formal policy of relocating the Uyghur people to distant parts of the Chinese empire. I appreciate the struggle of these people for their own national self determination. It is possible that a horrible atrocity is occurring now in Western China, and even with YouTube, this situation is hidden from us in plain sight. And yet I wonder if what is happening there can truly be called, as the placard of one of the demonstrators claimed, genocide.
I experienced a very strange phenomenon as I prepared this post. I would reach a certain length in the writing (or number of items in the code?) and that caused the entire post to “disappear” or be hidden. Eventually I found the point beyond which I could write no more… and I simply determined to cut the post in two portions.
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