Thursday, 13 December 2018 | News today: 24

In interview with MIA, Israeli Ambassador to Macedonia talks about significance of Holocaust Remembrance Day


January 27 is International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The date coincides with the day the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated. The initiative came from the young Israeli diplomat Rony Adam, whose good idea has truly made a difference. In this interview with MIA, the Israeli Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia Dan Oryan talks about the significance of this date.

Your Excellency, what does this date signify in the Jewish collective consciousness?

The idea was to have a special day to remember and talk about the attempt to wipe off the map the whole Jewish nation and a few other minorities. The UN decision also has an operative part, not many are aware. It calls to develop educational programs on the topic and to work to prevent attempts to deny the holocaust and to work to make sure such events on religious or ethnic background do not happen again.

Our obligation today is greater than it was in the past. Time is passing by, and only a few of the survivors are still with us.

A week before the day I was in Israel in the one and only little state that the Jews have in the world. I often think that if this state had been there on March 11, 1943, the tragedy of the Jews in Macedonia would have been different. Maybe the 7,144 Jews in Macedonia that were murdered in Treblinka would have been with us today.

But the state of Israel did not exist.  The state of Israel, which today promises a safe haven to any Jew in the world, could not offer that in 1943 to the Jews of Macedonia, or to any other Jews around the world. Almost 6 million Jews were lost. Take the whole population of Macedonia and double it 3 times, and even more.

Unfortunately, the world witnesses new pogroms against nations, minorities, or ethnicities all the time.

I visited a few days ago the Ziv Hospital in the north of Israel, where in the last few years thousands of people from Syria, our otherwise enemy state, are treated. People who were wounded during the civil war just a few miles from our borders.  We take them in and try to save them, to give them hope.

Israel, the country born after the holocaust, is now 70, and it is one of the leading in agriculture, in water management, in creating solutions in energy, and of course in high tech and innovation. When Prime Minister Zaev and Deputy PM Angushev visited Jerusalem, we took them to see the leading Israeli technologies in Orcam, solutions for people who have eye problems, and Mobilie, the car industry, but we also took them to the Israeli Museum of the holocaust. When your PM came out, he said to us, “Everyone must see this place.” I cannot agree more. Israel today leads in many fields but we all remember the past.

75 years after the  camp was liberated, the Jewish state is reaching out and making sure that Jews will be able to live safely and guarantees one place in the world they can always turn to.  When Jews are under threat around the world, they address us. Even today, many countries still have to deal with anti-Semitism, which in many places is mixed with anti-Israeli sentiments. Not in Macedonia, I am happy to say.

Israel is surely not only that?

Israel at 70 is not only a safe haven for Jews and a high-tech leader, but also a country that is working hard to prevent terrorism and assist other countries in the fight against it.

Last year, more than 30 big terrorist attacks were prevented in Europe, the USA and around the world because of valuable Israeli information and cooperation.

Do you collaborate with Macedonia on these goals?

We have good cooperation with Macedonia, as well. We give a helping hand in need, as we did when the floods and fire hit Macedonia, and we support your wishes to find your place in the EU and NATO.

How would you describe relations between Macedonia and Israel?

Macedonia has done quite a lot on Jewish issues. The law which deals with Jewish property and created the Holocaust Fund was important, and so was the opening of the Museum in 2011. It is good that the permanent exhibition will be open in March. We can only be sorry that it is much smaller than what was planned at the beginning, and that it took such a long time.

But an exhibition is far from enough. The education system should have a proper plan, and proper text books about the topic taught in the schools. The arrival of teachers of history to Israel to Yad Vashem should continue, and new projects should be undertaken to make sure the young generation is interested.

The Jewish heritage should be on the agenda of the relevant organizations and first and foremost on the agenda of the Holocaust Fund that has not done that for the last few years. I believe a change is coming.

There is so much to do, and the potential for Macedonia is huge. Getting the story relevant to the young generation should be on the top of the list. We should tell young people what happened to the Jews in Macedonia in a way that will interest them.

I am encouraged that the civic move that started last year with the March of the Living in Bitola is growing. I hope that on March 11 we will see in Bitola thousands of people marching to remember.

In Bitola today there are no Jews, and this would be a strong message to say that we remember them and we care.

In your view, what is Macedonia doing – or rather, is it doing enough – to keep the memory of the Jewish victims alive?

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told his counterpart Premier Netanyahu and the Israeli press that in 2011 Macedonia opened the Holocaust Museum and in 2015 started to clean the old Jewish cemetery in Bitola to turn it into a memorial park. I would like to invite you to join these efforts and make sure this happens.

We already have Jews, Christians and Muslims cleaning together and marching together, and on that same day, March 11, we will also have a hackathon, an innovation competition with the aim to tell the Jewish story with technological and innovative tools with many local partners. Young people from Macedonia and Israel, along with high-tech and history experts, will join forces to come up with new ideas to tell the story and make it accessible with new tools.

Who are your partners in making this idea come to life?

One of the partners is Seavus, a company located very close to the former Monopol, today’s tobacco factory, the place from which the Jews were sent to their death. What could be a greater victory?

In the last two years, something special has been happening in Bitola. Young people – Jews, Christians and Muslims – are cleaning together the oldest Jewish cemetery in the region. I was there with the Minister of Culture of Macedonia to see ways to cooperate, and I also visited the cemetery with the local mufti, who promised to assist with his young people as well. Young people have been coming all the way from Germany and, of course, from Israeli to join the effort of the local population led by ARHAM and the city organizations, with the participation of the small Macedonian Jewish community from Skopje, and the many more numerous Jewish partners from around the world and from Israel.

More and more Jews are joining our Facebook groups and showing interest. Many delegations from Israel have visited the cemetery in the last two years, from artists to academia, and many groups of young people, all coming to be part of this special story. Many more are planned for this year, to look for the graves of their ancestors and pay them tribute. We tell the story in Israel and around the world.

Later this year the Jerusalem path will opened in Bitola, and I hope that the sundial of Matty Greenberg will be put up as a memorial to the tragic history of the Bitola Jews.

You have mentioned partnering with associations, NGOs, young people and IT experts. Will you get logistic support from the state?

I am especially happy that among the many partners who care about the past and wish to see it is told in different ways is also the Speaker of the Macedonian Parliament. He will come march with us on March 11. In addition, he has supported  the January 26 showing – with Macedonian and Albanian subtitles, on the Parliament’s TV channel – the amazing experience of the holocaust survivor Noah Kliger. Titled “To Box for Your Life”, it is the personal story of a young man who has to fight in order to survive in Auschwitz. A true inspiration, bearing in mind that Noah assisted many other Jews to escape and emigrate from France after the war to Israel, and was on the Exodus, the famous boat that brought him to Israel. After he came to Israel, he became a leading journalist and then editor of the biggest newspaper at the time.

I appreciate the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to organize yearly Holocaust Day events, and this year I am happy for the partnership with other ministries that are having special events, as well. One of them is the Minister for European integration collaborating with Acta non verba to organize a special event of commemoration.

On January 27, the International Day of the Holocaust, I invite you to stop for a short while, to remember, and to see how you can take part in the efforts to tell the story to the next generation, when people like Noah are not with us to tell it anymore.

Let’s try to find ways to get the young generation involved.

Let’s march together in Bitola on March 11 and in Skopje on the 12th. I appreciate a lot that the idea I raised with the president of the Jewish Community a year ago to march also in Skopje was approved and will be part of the official plans for this year.

Seventy-five years after the deportation of the Jews to Treblinka, it is our duty and yours to work together to make sure that it is remembered and that it never happens again.