Group marks Remembrance Day, anniversary
Holocaust survivor and Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman speaks April 19 about "Protecting the Memory and Meaning of the Holocaust" on Holocaust Remembrance Day April 19 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:11AM
There came a time when Holocaust survivor and Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman stopped asking why.
No longer did Foxman try to answer the unanswerable: Why did I survive such an act of genocide and unprecedented inhumanity? “Why me?”
Like many survivors, Foxman struggled to find some rationale for his survival.
“As I grew older,” he told nearly 300 people April 19 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, “I realized that there are no answers, only questions.”
So Foxman found new questions to ask — questions that begin not with “why” but with “what if...”
What if instead of one Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish humanitarian who rescued so many Jews during World War II, there were 100,000 Raoul Wallenbergs?
What if instead of one Oskar Schindler, another rescuer of vulnerable Jews during the Nazi regime, there were 100,000 Oskar Schindlers?
What if the United States had accepted Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis who were trying to flee the dangers of Germany?
What if the allies had bombed Auschwitz?
Foxman posed other “what if” questions during his dynamic speech that marked Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — as well as the third anniversary of the opening of Skokie’s extraordinary museum.
He titled his talk “A 21st Century Challenge: Protecting the Memory and Meaning of the Holocaust.”
“So for me, and I believe for you,” Foxman said, “this museum, this commitment of yours, is to make sure that our children and grandchildren never have to ask in the future what if.”
For Foxman though, there is another “what if” question that perhaps shines the brightest light on the timeless significance of the museum itself.
“What if (people) stood up every single day to say no,” he said. “No to hatred. No to bigotry. No to prejudice. No to racism. Not to anti-Semitism.”
The museum chose an ideal speaker for such an important date because like this institution itself, Foxman’s mission has been all about standing up for what he believes is right.
Saved by his Polish Catholic nanny during World War II, Foxman has devoted his life to fighting anti-Semitism, discrimination and prejudice.
His career has spanned nearly four decades, during which he has met with seven U.S. Presidents, Pope John Paul II, the leaders of European nations, Russia, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China, South Africa and Argentina.
An author and a recognized authority on the Holocaust and Jewish resistance to the Nazis, Foxman has helped to focus worldwide attention on the heroic efforts of Christian rescuers of Jews.
He has periodically taken controversial positions whether on gay rights, the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero or President Jimmy Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
But he has always delivered his positions with a deep passion and a conviction that they align with his core beliefs.
Foxman April 19 said that it became a “haunting discovery” for many that the world knew about Holocaust atrocities occurring in Europe during World War II.
“They didn’t do much about it,” he said.
“If you spend time in this museum, where there are these creative ways to teach children to know and understand what is bigotry, what is prejudice, what is racism, what is exclusionary, what is bullying, it is important to know.”
But knowing is not enough, Foxman said.
He shares with the museum a commitment to spread the importance of taking knowledge and transforming it into action — into becoming an “upstander” when confronted with cruelty and inhumanity.
“Wherever, whenever, however good people stood up to say no to hate, Jews lived, Gypsies lived, gays lived, trade unionists lived, Christian clergy lived,” he said.
Foxman’s talk on Holocaust Remembrance Day followed a candle-lighting ceremony where six survivors each lit a memorial candle for the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
“It is so symbolic that we gather today, tonight to remember, to learn, to understand at an institution and a museum and a sacred place,” he said. “So many of them (who) never came to proper burial now have a presence in this place.”