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U.N. Secretary-General Commemorates Holocaust at UES Synagogue

 Ban Ki-Moon visited the Park East Synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
Ban Ki-Moon visited the Park East Synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014.
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Park East Synagogue

UPPER EAST SIDE — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon joined congregants of an Upper East Side synagogue over the weekend to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

The secretary-general, along with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, addressed members of the Park East Synagogue and diplomats representing more than 50 countries during the congregation’s Seventh Annual United Nations Holocaust Commemoration service on Saturday.

“As we remember those who perished, I would also like to pay tribute to the survivors — including those here today,” Ban said, according to a statement.  “You bear sorrowful memories, but you have also shown the strength of the human spirit.”

The Park East Synagogue holds a Holocaust commemoration service each year in the week before the United Nation’s International Day of Commemoration on Jan. 27. Members of the United Nations are always invited to participate.

Rabbi Schneier came up with the idea as a way to bridge the gap between Judaism and some parts of the world where Jewish relations may be strained.

“When they started to do the day of commemoration at the U.N., he thought that was wonderful, but that we should also do something at the synagogue,” said Park East’s cantor, Benny Rogosnitzky, in a statement. “Some of the diplomats had never been inside of a synagogue and didn’t know what Judaism was all about, so it gives them a window into our world.”

Schneier is a Holocaust survivor who lived under Nazi occupation in Budapest. Since his arrival in the United States in 1947, he has fought for religious freedom and human rights, founding the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and earning a Presidential Citizens Medal.

The United Nations day of commemoration will take place on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when prisoners were liberated from Auschwitz-Birkenau.

During his address, Ban recalled the sorrow of his visit to Auschwitz in November 2013.

“I stood on the ramp where the transport trains unloaded their human cargo, where the awful moment of selection took place — where the quick flick of an SS commander’s index finger meant the difference between being killed immediately in the gas chambers and being kept alive only to be worked to death,” he said.

The secretary-general also acknowledged the disturbing sectarian violence currently on display in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. He called for collective action to prevent such future atrocities in these and other places.

“Each of us has a role to play in combating intolerance, incitement and the manipulation of ethnic or religious identity that we see in conflicts and political campaigns,” he said.  “All those involved in atrocities — whether head of state or head of militia — should be held accountable.”

In addition to the secretary-general, other leaders also acknowledged the day of commemoration. In a message sent to Rabbi Schneier, Pope Francis said that he would renew his call to remember "the half a million Hungarian Jews deported in 1944” and pray for those who participated in the service.