In what was its most successful event, the October 16 Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria raised a whopping $1.6 million.
Dinner chair Nelson Peltz introduced the Center’s Distinguished Service Award recipient —New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who good humouredly led off with: “When Nelson [told me] ‘I didn’t vote for you,’ I thought it was a joke. He wasn’t kidding.” Cuomo touted Peltz, CEO and founding partner of Trian Fund Management LLP, as “an icon of the American dream, a great American and New Yorker, a great philanthropist.”
Touting the Wiesenthal Center as “a living memorial to the memory of a great man — Simon Wiesenthal — who died eight years ago at the age of 96, sixty years after his liberation,” Cuomo said: “Now some will say that the Center’s mission is complete.” Apropos the emergence of anti-Semitism worldwide, Cuomo cited incidents in France when “last month a group of Jews were attacked by a gang of teenagers…in Spain two months ago…’Adolf Hitler was right’ was painted across a bullfight arena…. It is very much a real threat in the world we live in…. So Simon Wiesenthal was right and you are right to be here this evening. We need a strong Israel and we need a strong America…working hand-in-glove because they are the bulwarks for democracy on this globe.”
“Anti-Semitism around the world has never been stronger and more dangerous,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, declared. His documented scroll of statistics included: “an estimated 150 million Europeans harbor anti-Jewish sentiments…. Seventy years after the Holocaust, in the same country that initiated the Holocaust, a study showed that 20% of Germans living today are anti-Semitic.”
Speaking with the help of an interpreter, 86-year old Medal of Honor recipient Czeslawa Zak — who was a young girl in Warsaw when her parents helped harbor 14 Jews from 1940-1944 — played down her family’s heroism. The family was designated as Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem. During the reception I got to chat with Ambassador Yehuda Avner author and star of the Moriah Film documentary “The Prime Ministers” and shared some pre-war Warsaw memories with Zak, who joined me in singing Polish folk songs.
Keynote speaker Vernon Jordan Jr. Senior Managing Director, Lazard presented the 2013 Simon Wiesenthal Center Humanitarian Award to Kenneth Jacobs, Chairman and CEO, Lazard.
The Wiesenthal’s newly opened exhibit/installation in Los Angeles in memory of Anne Frank brought back my 1982 visit to the Anne Frank house where we chanced on an elderly British couple musing: “One wonders if it really happened?” I retorted: “Does one also wonder about the London Blitz?” They apologized. “Yes. Yes. It must have happened.” In Litvishn Yiddish I asked an elderly German woman [from Aachen] with granddaughter in tow, why she came. In German she replied: “My neighbors, my friends, they were taken away in the night to Theriesenstadt…” Tearfully she added: “Ach ja! She needs to know this.”