" The Macedonian people - like the Jewish people almost fifty years earlier - has reentered geography and history, and its own sovereign identity deserves to be acknowledged accordingly...The lessons of the Holocaust in your country must serve as en early warning system to those of your neighbors where antisemitism and Holocaust denial are resurgent."

Skopje, 9 March 2011

Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr.Shimon Samuels, addressed the ceremony organized by the Government, Holocaust Foundation and Jewish community of Macedonia, to mark the 68th anniversary of the deportation to Treblinka of over 7,000 - of which one third were children - where all perished. The ceremony launched an impressive Holocaust Centre and Museum,built in Skopje, with Government restitution of assets looted by Bulgarian Axis occupants from the murdered Jews.

Samuels presentation follows: 

"Excellency Mr.President of the Macedonian Republic, Excellency Mr.Prime Minister and Ministers, officials of the Macedonian Jewish Community, religious leaders, diplomatic representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for this invitation to address you, as Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre - an international Jewish human rights organization of over 400,000 members, based in Los Angeles.  

We carry the name of our mentor, Simon Wiesenthal, who brought to justice over 1,100 Nazi war criminals.

Today, we draw the lessons of the Holocaust to the analysis of contemporary prejudice and hold consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO, Council of Europe, OSCE and the Organization of American States.

My first association with Macedonia were the heroic tales of Alexander the Great of Mokdon. The Talmud recalls his disputation with the Jerusalem Temple High Priest, Shimon HaTsadik. Alexander rejected the Samarian's demand to exterminate the Jews for refusing to place his effigy in the Temple. For centuries, thereafter, Alexander was the most popular name in Jewish communities around the Mediterranean basin.

My second tie with this country was as a student, returning to my native London for the summer holidays from my studies in Jerusalem. It was 26 July 1963. We had left Skopje station and were approximatively 30 kilometers away, when the earthquake struck this city, with the tragic loss of over 1 500 and thousands wounded. May that experience never recur.

My third recollection was on learning of an almost hidden chapter of the Holocaust : the fate of the Jews of Macedonia and Thrace. Of an ancient community with 7 000 deported, less than 150 survived in hiding or as partisans - the highest victim percentage,exceeding even the 95% murder rate of Lithuania.

My fourth link was elation at the "European spring",which included the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Though pre-Communist national conflicts resurfaced, it seemed that "the new-old Europe" would emerge to contribute to the consolidation of European democracy and security. 

The Macedonian people - like the Jewish people almost fifty years earlier - had reentered geography and history, and its own sovereign identity deserves to be acknowledged accordingly. 

The lessons of the Holocaust in your country must serve as en early warning system to those of your neighbors, where antisemitism and Holocaust denial are resurgent. 

For that reason, we urge the Macedonian Government to request membership of the International Taskforce on Holocaust Education and Commemoration. We propose that you call for papers from around the world on the Shoah in the Balkans, to be presented at a conference here in Skopje at your excruciatingly beautiful new Holocaust Memorial Centre,perhaps on the 70th anniversary of the deportation in 2013.

As a bulwark of the West, Macedonia must assume its natural place in NATO. Moreover, the sun in the centre of your national flag should soon shine brightly among the stars of the European Union, to which you are a candidate for the next round of enlargement.There you will contribute from the wisdom and wealth of your national heritage. 

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre looks forward to cooperating with Macedonia and its Jewish community. 

Thank you for inviting us to this auspicious gathering."