Rome, October 16th 1998
MR. CHAIRMAN, HONOURABLE DEPUTIES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
In whatever way or form we recall the SHOAH , the Holocaust, we are instantly reminded of the particular horror of that tragedy. Because unlike other terrible pogroms or attempts at genocide, the Shoah had a unique characteristic: it was constructed, planned and carried out systematically by a central government, the Nazi government of 1933-45.
No other catastrophe of mankind has this particular characteristic: the systematic, calculated and centralized elimination - the total annihilation - of an entire people.
The Wansee Conference - sadly known to one and all - had established precise rules and procedures for the elimination of the Jews. Among the people who attended were top-level officials from the most important Ministries of the then Reich, each of whom was assigned a precise role in the implementation of the "final solution".
This is why it is so exceptional that a few people - and occasionally, but unfortunately very rarely, administrations and governments - tried to oppose the official decisions and the forces that were behind the implementation of the "final solution".
The majority of governments, administrations, parliaments, and religious administrations too, accepted the decisions taken at Wannsee. Few tried to oppose them: Dimitar Peshev, an outstanding member of the Bulgarian nation, was one of these exceptional people. In the early months of 1943 this ardent democrat, a previous Minister of Justice and an active parliamentarian, gathered together a small group of fellow members of parliament. Putting pressure on the Chairman of the Bulgarian Parliament, on the Prime Minister and eventually on the King himself, he succeeded not only in voicing his opposition but also in getting the deportation plan prepared by the Nazi authorities nullified.
The Jews were saved: forty-eight thousand of them thus escaped the gas chambers and cremating ovens of Auschwitz. Peschev's greatness lay not only in his ability to deal with political situations and to instill a sense of morality, and political esteem among his colleagues: above all he was a true and active champion of human rights. Reading his story in Gabriele Nissim's wonderful book "L'Uomo che ferm˜ Hitler", I have become firmly convinced that Peshev did the same for any other national ethnic group under threat of extermination. His greatness lay in his attempt to halt - as he indeed did - the strong, powerful machinery of an entire state. So doing, he gave no thought to his own personal safety and the wellbeing of his whole family. He never tried to share with others his personal responsibility for what he had done but shouldered all the ensuing risks and responsibilities himself.
There are not many people who, like Peshev, acted in accordance with this particular ideal. They can in fact be counted on the fingers of a single hand: Raul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, Dimitar Peshev, Giorgio Perlasca. Perhaps the real saints are these very men.
We should do everything in our power to tell our own and future generations about these extraordinary individuals and their deeds. You have personally taken the initiative and suggested ways of increasing awareness of the Shoah. In a few days' time, a first group of students from various Rome schools, led by the Mayor of Rome Francesco Rutelli and officials of the Jewish Community, will leave for a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Your personal contribution to recalling the historic significance of the racial laws and giving Italy's younger generations the chance to acquire first-hand knowledge of the atrocities of the Nazi/Fascist era and the Nazis' horrendous attempts to eliminate the entire Jewish people deserve praise and appreciation.
As a representative of the State which also represents the survivors, I thank you.
I also want to ask my friend and colleague, the Bulgarian Ambassador, here with us today, to take a message back to his countrymen. I wish them to be aware of our enormous respect, appreciation and admiration for a fellow Bulgarian who, during one of the darkest periods of modern history, rose up to save my fellowmen from death and annihilation.
Lastly my sincerest thanks go to Gabriele Nissim. Without his painstaking research work the amazing story of Dimitar Peshev would not have come to light. The Jewish people should be grateful to him for having presented this great saviour of the Bulgarian Jewish community in such a vivid and effective way.
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