India has been hailed for giving refuge to Jews fleeing the genocide by Nazis in keeping with its tradition of being a haven for those fleeing religious persecution around the world as the UN observed the International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorating Jewish victims of the Nazis.
The president of B'nai B'rith International, Charles Kaufman, said at the United Nations on Monday that the India lived up to that tradition of a nation of righteousness when thousands of Jews found safety and welcome when they fled the holocaust carried out by Nazis in Europe.
This was a uniquely overlooked episode that needs to be recognised, he said, while speaking at a meeting on “India: A Distant Haven During the Holocaust” that was organised by Indian's UN Mission and the B'nai B'rith, a global Jewish service organisation.
India's Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin said that India receiving refugees fleeing the holocaust was in the tradition of the nation welcoming Jews that goes back thousands of years.
Anti-Semitism was a rare phenomenon in India and it occurred in 2008 in Mumbai when the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists attacked the Chabad center, he said.
While Jews received refuge, they in turn have contributed to India in the arts, culture and economy, he said. Some served in the armed forces and are treasured as national heroes, he added.
As the Nazis began their genocidal persecution of Jewish people in Europe, India was engaged in the freedom struggle, yet managed to welcome the refugees, he said.
While anti-Semitism and intolerance again show signs of re-emerging, the examples of compassion in the midst of tragedy must be beacons of tolerance, he said.
An author and expert on Jews and minorities in India, Kenneth Robbins, said that not only for Jews, but for various others India was a place where minorities were able to flourish.
He gave the example of the Sidis, who came to India as slaves and rose to be rulers – the only instance of Africans ruling non-Africans, he said.
The several thousands of Jews who fled Nazi persecution to India in the 1930s, came in several waves starting with the German Jews. They were followed by others from Italy; Austria, East and Central Europe; North Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, and Poland, he said.
There were also those who married Indians studying in Germany and elsewhere who came with their spouses to India, he said.
The person who is responsible for saving tens of millions of lives came from one of these marriages that allowed a Jew to come to India, he said.
Yusuf Khwaja Hamied, the chairman of Cipla, brought down the price of AIDS medications to $6 making to affordable to millions in Africa, saving their lives, he said.
His mother was Luba Derczanska, a Lithuanian Jew who married his father Khwaja Abdul Hamied when he was a student in Berlin, he said.
Among the thousands of Jewish children who came India was Tom Stoppard, the award-winning British playwright and screenwriter, he said. Born Tomas Straussler, he went to school in India in India after his family fled Czechoslavakia.
Stephen Tauber came to India as a child in 1937 when his physician father was offered a job by Ganga Singh, the Maharaja of Bikaner, and received a visa to leave Austria escaping the Nazis.
During his time in Bikaner he witnessed religious harmony among Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews, who respected each other's religions, he said.
Two maharajas, Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar and Rajaram III of Kolhapur, established camps for Polish child refugees.
Earlier, speaking at a Holocaust memorial ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that not only is anti-Semitism still strong, it is getting worse and we must "reaffirm our resolve to fight the hatred that still plagues our world today."
"Inevitably, where there is anti-Semitism, no one else is safe," he warned. "Across the world, we are seeing a disturbing rise in other forms of bigotry."
"Intolerance today spreads at lightning speed across the Internet and social media" and" most disturbingly, hate is moving into the mainstream – in liberal democracies and authoritarian systems alike," he said.