June 21, 2009

Interview to Baruch Tenembaum: ”Thousands of Jews owe their lives to John XXIII”


Baruch Tenembaum is a well-known Argentinean Jewish business man and ecumenical activist, founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, together with his late friend Tom Lantos. More active than ever, he is always in search of testimonials of people who saved Jews during the Holocaust… as a duty and as a obligation.

Baruch Tenembaum is a well-known Argentinean Jewish business man and ecumenical activist, founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, together with his late friend and US congressman Tom Lantos, the only holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress, saved by the Swedish diplomat who disappeared in action.

Tenembaum, whose work day would scare off 20 year old youngsters, shares his life between New York, London, Buenos Aires and Punta del Este. These days, he is in Israel visiting the Foundation’s Jerusalem headquarters and having meetings related to his humanitarian activities. The Wallenberg Foundation, stresses Tenembaum, is the only institution in the world that actively investigates and documents untold stories of rescuers.

Once documented, the Foundation creates educational programs aimed at highlighting the rescuers’ historical legacy. These programs titled ”Wallenberg in the classrooms”, are presented by volunteers within the curriculum approved by several Education Departments of various countries in Latin America. ”The Foundation, through our teams of professionals and volunteers carries out a number of investigations regarding untold stories about rescuers who risked their lives during the Holocaust”, stated Tenembaum.

At the end of 2008, one of these investigations culminated in the posthumous delivery of the title ”Just among the nations” to Stanislawa Slawinska, a polish catholic woman who sheltered Jews in her own home, in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, 30 km from Warsaw. Slawinska’s descendents embraced fraternally one of the women saved by her. The event was covered by Semana

Presently the Wallenberg Foundation, through a group of professional and volunteer investigators, is investigating and documenting tens of rescuers’ stories, common people and diplomats from several countries, with different religions and beliefs. Among the diplomats investigated by the Foundation, we find Julio Palencia, Sebastián Romero de Radigales and Eduardo Rolland de Miota (three Spanish diplomats that helped save Jews during the Holocaust), as well as a number of Turkish Muslim diplomats, especially the late Turkish Vice Consul in Marseille, Necdet Kent.

Evidence shows that Kent issued Turkish Citizenship Certificates (that protected their holders) including Jewish Turkish descendents who were entitled to Turkish citizenship according to the laws effective at the time. Besides, according to his own testimonial, Necdet Kent was the key actor of a historical rescue.

A few years before his death, Kent revealed that in 1943, he was alerted by his faithful Jewish collaborator and interpreter, Sidi Iscan, that the Nazis were going to deport about 70 Turkish Jews. Kent and Iscan showed up at the train station in Marseille (probably, Saint Charles) and boarded the train, refusing to get off unless the Nazis freed the Turkish Jews that were confined there in inhuman conditions, on their way to extermination. The Nazi Commander did not heed to Kent’s demands and the train left (probably on the way to a French concentration camp before its final destination in Germany) and when it stopped in Arles or Nimes (Kent did not remember precisely due to his advanced age), the Nazi Commandant in charge of that station excused himself and insisted that Kent get off the train together with his aide. Kent refused to get off without ”his fellow citizens”. After a few tense minutes of negotiation, where Kent displayed his diplomatic privileges, the Nazi Commander allowed Kent to disembark with his aide and his ”fellow citizens”.

Tenembaum told that the Wallenberg Foundation was ”doing the impossible to document testimonials about this, and many other dramatic events by consulting files in various countries to collect information.” In a few days, Tenembaum will go to Europe to explore aspects related to this investigation. He asked ”We urge and plead that anyone who can provide more information about this dramatic event contact our foundation, or any of our offices, through our website: www.raoulwallenberg.net”.

A short while ago, Tenembaum gave an interview to the prestigious Jerusalem Post, that caused a great uproar. In this interview, he spoke of the ”Holocaust survivors’ moral obligation to reveal who saved them.” ”I am aware of the survivors’ pain, but I believe that the younger generations have the right to know the rescuers’ stories, and this right is stronger than the right to silence”, declared Tenembaum. Last week, in Tel Aviv, the Wallenberg Foundation’s founder met with former Absorption Minister Yair Zaban. Both share a common goal: recognize the heroic act of Angelo Roncalli, Vatican’s Apostolic Delegate in Istambul during the Second World War, that saved many Jews from cruel extermination.

Roncalli was better known as Pope John XXIII (deservedly called ”the good Pope”). Tenembaum tells us that, thanks to his good friend Zaban, he learned that Roncalli not only saved a great number of Jews from the Nazis, but that, before the UN’s decisive vote that resulted in the creation of the State of Israel, Roncalli played an important role that facilitated that historical event. Petitioned by Moshe Sharet (Shertok), and through Dr. Moshe Sneh’s intervention, Roncalli pressured the Vatican’s authorities not to interfere with the decision of the Latin American countries to vote in favor of the establishment of a Jewish State. ”Roncalli was a great friend of the Jewish people. Thousands of Jews owe their lives to him, and it can also be said that he helped establish the Jewish State… For all of this, the Jewish people owe Roncalli eternal gratitude,” concluded Tenembaum.
Translated by: Judith Rostenne