Conferring the Raoul Wallenberg Award on Professor André Chouraqui
Embassy of the Republic of Argentina in France.
Ambassador Archibaldo Lanús, Excellences, Eminences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Mr. Bendahan for your amiable and generous introduction.
Thank you Archie for receiving so many of us here to celebrate the life and work of André Chouraqui. Judith Pisar and I are delighted to have you back in Paris as Ambassador and hope that you will be with us here through the term of your newly elected President Mr. Kirchner.
Thank you Baruch Tenembaum for having come to Paris for this occasion from Buenos Aires, New York or Jerusalem. I do not know from where as you are a global man per excellence, a leader of the great Jewish community of Argentina and South America.
We welcome you also as the Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, established to honor this immense hero of our time who, as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary during the Holocaust, saved tens of thousands of Jews from certain death.
He paid with his freedom and probably his life for this altruism after he disappeared in 1945, without trace, in the archipelago of the Stalinist Goulags.
Frankly, I do not quite understand by what logic I have been given the great privilege of honoring this evening André Chouraqui with the Raoul Wallenberg prize. Perhaps it is because of my unique bounds with these two great men.
With Wallenberg my links are very indirect, yet quite profound. While he was risking his life, day after day, in Budapest, to save innocent men, women and children from deportation, I was at Auschwitz – the inferno where Adolf Eichmann eclipsed Dante`s imaginary vision of inferno.
I was 15 years old at the time and a direct witness of the destruction of Hungary’s Jewish Community. In the summer of 1944 I saw every, any, with my own eyes as the cattle trains packed with their human cargoes were opened on the central ramp of the camps, and as Dr. Mengele -we called him the Angel of Death- selected people for the gas chambers and a few others for slave labor, meant to live a little longer.
As Founder and President of the Yad Vashem Memorial Committee, here I would like to say that no one deserves the distinction of Righteous Among the Nations, which our Memorial has by now awarded to some 20,000 people in Europe, more than Raoul Wallenberg.
With André Chouraqui my links, since a quarter of a century are, fortunately, of another nature. We have been involved in the same struggle for peace, tolerance and human rights.
Dear André, you are, like Wallenberg, a unique human being, at once a Renaissance man and a man of the 21st century.
A great intellectual, a great pedagogue, a great writer, and at the same time a man of action and of commitment to noble causes, you have played a key role in the quest for reconciliation between the so called hereditary enemies of history.
The highlights of your biography are too well known and too numerous for me to describe in detail.
Born in Algeria in 1917, you emanate from a Judeo-Spanish family which, over the centuries, has given the world judges, theologians, rabbis, poets and scientists.
In the 1930s and 1940s you were a student in Paris, a member of the French resistance against Nazi occupation, and later a lawyer and judge in Algiers.
Subsequently you continued to do a thousand things. You wrote, you traveled, you counseled.
You even found time to marry Anette Levy, who is with us tonight, and produce five children some of whom are also here. In 1958 you ascended to Jerusalem, where you became adviser to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and later Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem.
At the same time you are the spokesman and incarnation of French culture in Israel. You inspire and organize a process of intensive inter-religious cooperation among Jews Christian and Muslims in the holy city and beyond.
But above all you wrote and published fundamental erudite works on burning historic and contemporary issues.
It is mainly to the writer that I wish to render homage on this occasion. Not only to the author of innumerable books and articles translated into twenty languages which have brought you universal recognition. But also to the first and only writer who has translated into French all the texts of the Bible, the New Testament and the Coran.
With these achievements you have become, today, a mayor force in the rapprochement, the essential rapprochement among the three monotheistic religions under the common Abrahamic God.
You have documented the crucial intuition that the three sacred scriptures have a striking unity.
The Bible was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek and the Coran in Arabic. All three say essentially the same thing. And those who wrote them wished the same thing for their people and for mankind as a whole. Yet this was not known, not understood, not appreciated. And after centuries of bloodshed it is still not known, not accepted sufficiently today. We are still blinded by religions, racist and ideological hatred and violence on a global scale.
Your discovery, your hope, André Chouraqui, the hope of humanity, is to realize at last the unity and co-existence of a divided world of clashing faiths, cultures and civilizations, before another man-made catastrophe, a planetary Auschwitz with toxic gas and nuclear radiation, threatens a final solution for mankind.
It is in recognition of your monumental oeuvre, your dedicated engagement, in the service of the highest humanistic values, and your steadfast support of interfaith dialogue that I ask you to accept the Raoul Wallenberg Prize 2003.
May God bless you, André, and may God bless you all.