Wednesday, October 31, 2007

B92: Israel honors Serbia's "righteous among nations"

NOVI SAD -- A synagogue ceremony last night recognized those Serbians who helped save the lives of Jews during the WW2.

The Righteous Among the Nations title, the highest honor the state of Israel awards non-Jews, is intended for those who helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Dušan Jovanović received the medal in Novi Sad from the hands of the Israeli Ambassador to Serbia Arthur Koll, while Andrija Latal, Petar Zanković, Klara Baić and Slobodanu and Milenija Knežević were honored posthumously.

Jovanović, a retired professor of medial science, worked with the staff of a Novi Sad hospital during the Second World War to hide 20 Jews throughout 1944, and save their lives from Nazi persecution.

Jovanović told the gathering Tuesday, which included President Boris Tadić, that he acted out of his sense of humanity, without expecting to ever be recognized or awarded, since he himself went through terrible ordeals.

"This strengthened my faith that we must appreciate and respect the man as the only value," he said.

Ambassador Koll addressed those attending the ceremony by saying that he felt exceptional honor because of the duty he was entrusted with.

"I stand here on behalf of the government of Israel, Yad Vashem, the entire Jewish nation and on behalf of those lucky few that were offered salvation by exceptionally courageous people who we are this evening rewarding," he continued.

The ambassador stressed that he himself came from a family of Holocaust survivors, while most of his relatives perished in the horrors of war, and quoted from the holy Jewish book of Talmud when he said, "a person that saves one life, has saved the whole world."

Koll reminded those present of the Israeli Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem, established in 1953, a national institution designed to honor the memory of the six million Jews killed during the war.

He also reflected on the fact that 62 years after the victory over the Nazis, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism are still alive, threatening world stability and peace.

"Just this month, here in Novi Sad, an attempt to raise the Nazi flag occurred, the flag of hatred and xenophobia. In this case, the reaction of both the democratic authorities and the public was impressive. Several thousand citizens of Serbia rose up and said, there is no place for racism in our town," the ambassador reminded.

When President Boris Tadić addressed the gathering, he expressed his sense of pride over the fact that Serbians were among those to help the persecuted Jewish population during the war, adding that Serbia will not allow for inhumanity of that kind to ever again take place on its soil.

"It is regrettable that even today in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, there are those who deny the existence of the concentration camps, gas chambers and the Holocaust," Tadić said.

"This should prompt us all the more to gather around those righteous individuals who risked their own lives to save those of their Jewish neighbors," the president added.

He told the Israeli embassy representatives and those from Serbia's Jewish community that he will work to make sure Jews are equal members of the society, with their cultural, ethnic and religious identity respected.

"I believe our joint efforts and ideals of the righteous will succeed in preserving and strengthening the ideals of humanity," Tadić said, adding he will look to condemn each incident of intolerance in front of the country's political public, bit also in the courts.

Since Yad Vashem was established, close to 22,000 medals have been awarded to individuals all over the world. Israel has to date also honored 127 Serbian nationals.

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