Hidden in plain sight

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.

Stop Iran rally in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza

Stop Iran ral­ly in Dag Ham­marskjöld Plaza (a large black back­drop for the speak­ers blocks the view of the UN)

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.

Satmar at Stop Iran rally

Sat­mar at Stop Iran ral­ly

God Gave Israel To The Jews

God Gave Israel To The Jews

Never Again Is Now

Nev­er Again Is Now

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.

rally to stop genocide in Darfur

ral­ly to stop geno­cide in Dar­fur

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.

Raoul Wallenberg Memorial from the west

Raoul Wal­len­berg Memo­r­i­al from the west

Raoul Wallenberg Memorial from 1st Ave. heading north (obscured if not completely hidden)

Raoul Wal­len­berg Memo­r­i­al from 1st Ave. head­ing north (obscured if not com­plete­ly hid­den)

Raoul Wallenberg Memorial from the east

Raoul Wal­len­berg Memo­r­i­al from the east

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…

Raoul Wallenberg Walk at the foot of the steps along the Isaiah Wall

Raoul Wal­len­berg Walk at the foot of the steps along the Isa­iah Wall

Isa­iah 2:4:

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.

demonstration against Han Chinese treatment of Uygurs

demon­stra­tion against Han Chi­nese treat­ment of Uygurs

in a Tues­day, 14 July 2009 sto­ry at the BBC

China demands Turkish retraction

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:

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.

an Uyghur demonstrator (on the left) with a homemade poster calling Chinese actions GENOCIDE

an Uyghur demon­stra­tor (on the left) with a home­made poster call­ing Chi­nese actions GENOCIDE


the continuation is hidden

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.

To con­tin­ue, click here

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