It is a strong, moving demonstration which has just been held at Edmond Fleg Center : the inauguration of the “Jardin des Justes de Marseille”, an initiative resulting from the collaboration between the Center and the Italian association Gariwo (Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide) whose president, Gabriel Nissim, traveled with Pietro Kuciukian, a co-founders of the association.
The Gariwo Foundation, whose headquarters are in Milan, has been working since November 30, 2000 to make known the stories of the Righteous, convinced that the memory of good is a powerful educational tool that serves to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. The Marseilles trees honor Varian Fry, just having saved Jews during the Holocaust, Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige du Fournet, just having saved Armenians during the genocide and Félicité Niyigeta known as “Ikimanika”, nun having saved Tutsi during the genocide in Rwanda.
- Évelyne Sitruk, president of the Fleg Center © Hagay Sobol
Évelyne Sitruk, the president of the Fleg Center tells the story of her meeting in February 2018 with Gabriel Nissim. ” I went to represent Fleg at the Italian Institute of Culture during a conference on the Righteous, not really knowing what I was going to find there. I left having found the answers I was wondering about the transmission of memory “, she explains before expressing” with force ” that : ” if it is important to consider the Holocaust and the genocides based on compassion for the victims, we must also be interested in the women and men who knew how to resist oppression “.
“Acting for the defense of good is never a sacrifice”
So, for the president of the Fleg center: “ This partnership with “Gariwo” represents for the Fleg Center a tremendous opportunity to expand its memorial action by distinguishing personalities who have saved lives by having the courage to stand up to oppose barbarism of any kind. “. Through the example of the Righteous, it is a matter of making young people understand, in particular, that ” Acting in defense of good is never a sacrifice or a deprivation, but a journey that can make life richer and more beautiful. We find happiness by doing good for others, because in this way we do good for ourselves. “, she underlines. Évelyne Sitruk finally clarifies: “ For this first year, we are symbolically planting 3 trees at the Fleg Center with the intention, next year, with the support of the Town Hall of Marseille, to replant them in a city garden. This will be the way to make known to the Marseillais all these Righteous “.
- Gabriel Nissim, president of the Gariwo association (Gardens of the Righteous in the world) ©Hagay Sobol
Gabriele Nissim says: “ I am a journalist by training, I have always worked on the memory of resistance to totalitarianism and on dissidence. It must be said that my family is originally from Salonica. The Jewish community numbered 50,000 at the start of World War II. From March to August 1943, the Germans deported more than 45,000 Jews from Salonica to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Most of them were gassed as soon as they arrived at Auschwitz. My father was resistant, he notably participated in the battle of El Alamein “.
“The Righteous is the individual who takes a stand against evil”
He comes to what the Righteous represent in his eyes: it is important for European unity to promote moral resistance and the Righteous represent the best of Europe. The Just is the individual who takes a stand against evil. It is important to highlight this figure because it teaches, especially young people, that everyone can always, whatever happens, take the side of helping others and defending human dignity. “. In this context, Gabriele Nissim had the creation of a National Day of the Righteous approved in 2012, recalling the moral importance of the Garden of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, founded by Moshe Beisky in order to pay homage to those who distributed aid to Jews during the Holocaust. A tribute to those who saved lives during all the genocides or massacres such as in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda and crimes against humanity, perpetrated during the 20th and 21st centuries. He adds : ” If we look at what is happening today in Ukraine we can clearly see that Europeans have values to defend against autocracy and the Righteous are the indicators of European values “.
The Gariwo Foundation, interpreted by Gabriele Nissim, was born from the meeting of the latter with Pietro Kuciukian, Ulianova Radice and Anna Maria Samuelli, its founders. ” We strive to make known the Righteous and to promote the “Memory of Good”. Gariwo was born with the intention of extending the notion of right and making it universal “. He insists that the righteous” are very often ordinary people neither saints nor heroes, they are women and men who by an act often spontaneously, faithful to their conscience, choose to act against injustice sometimes risking their lives “.
“Evil does not belong to the past”
Gabriel Nissim met in custody: “ Evil does not belong to the past, it is always in history. This is why we have created the Gardens of the Righteous which, like that of Yad Vachem, must become permanent centers of consciousness in order to prevent evil before it becomes too serious. Evil is always contemporary, so the Righteous must also be contemporary “.
- Pietro Kuliukian co-founder of Gariwo ©Hagay Sobol
Pietro Kuliukian discusses his anger over the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Turkey. ” until I read my father’s memory book which explained that he had been saved by a Turk. There is, in fact, always someone who refuses to obey a barbaric law. This is why, beyond the Shoah and then the Armenian genocide, we have developed the concept of the Righteous to all genocides and crimes against humanity. This is how we want to see the gardens of the Righteous grow all over the world, knowing that today there are 150 gardens in the world. “.
“Those who do good often remain in the shadows”
- Aurore Bruna, president of Ugab (Armenian General Charity Union) © Hagay Sobol
Aurore Bruna, the president of Ugab (Armenian General Charity Union) deplores: ” In history classes, alas, we always teach the lives and deeds of those who did evil, ordered crimes against humanity, but those who do good often remain in the shadows. We must restore this because, if we want to reconcile peoples after a genocide, it is the Righteous, their courageous and even heroic acts, which make it possible to reweave privileges, to heal wounds, to give fine examples to future generations. “.
“I am the descendant of a decimated family”
- Marcel Kabanda, historian, is president of the Ibuka association © Hagay Sobol
Marcel Kabanda, historian, is president of the association Ibuka, memory, justice and support for survivors of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He says: “ I am the descendant of a decimated family. And, for a long time, it was impossible to talk to me about the Righteous. I always answered that, if there had been, there wouldn’t have been so many deaths “. He adds : ” I didn’t measure then how complicated it was to be a Righteous “. It is his daughter who pushes him to assess: she said to me: “you always talk about the dead, what’s the point?” “. So for Marcel Kabanda: “ We must speak of death so as not to forget, but we must also speak of the Righteous because they prove that evil is not inevitable. “. Remember that the genocide lasted three months and caused more than a million deaths. All Tutsis without exception were targeted, as well as opposition Hutus considered to be accomplices”.
Three Trees – Three Righteous
- Three trees have just been planted for three righteous © Hagay Sobol
Then comes the moment of planting the trees, it will be a citron in homage to Varian Fry. Évelyne Sitruk recalls: “ He was sent by the “Emergency Rescue Committee” which officiated in Marseille under the name of American Rescue Center. His mission was to save some two hundred writers. A three-week reconnaissance mission that quickly turns into a proven thirteen-month adventure, during which he will become aware of the human drama that was being played out in Europe under the Nazi boot. Despite the surveillance of the Vichy regime, he helped many people to hide before their departure for Portugal, then neutral, or Martinique. Helped financially by the American Jewish art collector Peggy Guggenheim and assisted, in his mission, by the American vice-consul in Marseilles Hiram Bingham IV, he managed to bring out of French territory renowned intellectuals and artists, such as Claude Levi -Strauss, Max Ernst, Hannah Arendt or Marc Chagall. Disowned by his country, then still neutral, he saw his passport confiscated by the American authorities and left Europe on September 16, 1941. He then instructed one of his assistants, the French resistance fighter Daniel Bénédite to continue his work in the absence of son “.
Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige du Fournet
Aurore Bruna plants a lemon tree in memory of Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige du Fournet. She recalls that the latter, during the First World War, in February 1915, was appointed head of the third French squadron which had just been created. Based in Port Said (Egypt), this squadron was responsible for enforcing the blockade of the Ottoman coasts decreed in August 1915. It distinguished itself by saving more than 4,000 Armenians, including 1,563 children. ” Trying to escape the marches of deportation, 5,000 Armenians took refuge on Musa Dagh or Mont-Moïse where they resisted for 40 days but water and ammunition supplies were lacking. They succeeded in attracting the attention of the cruiser Guichen, north of the Bay of Antioch, with a white sheet marked with a red cross and the inscription: Christians in danger. Louis Dartige du Fournet takes the initiative to save lives while the French general staff gives him no instructions. In his own words “time was short and whatever the instructions it was necessary to evacuate them all” “.
Félicité Niyitegeka known as ikimanuka (1934-1994)
It is an orange tree that Marcel Kabanda plants in homage to Felicité Niyitegeka, ” Rwandan Catholic nun elevated to national heroine “. She was responsible for the Center Saint-Pierre in Gisenyi. Her relatives nicknamed her “ikimanuka” because of her friendly personality and her integrity. ” She welcomed Tutsis in her center, paying the Hutu soldiers money to look away when she made them pass to neighboring Zaire. Until the day when his brother, colonel, was informed of his action. He asks her to allow the militia to do their job. She answered him in a letter, that she refused to abandon the 43 people for whom she was responsible, considering dying with them. She writes in particular: When I get to God I’ll pray for you “. On April 20, her brother sent her a vehicle and an escort of soldiers, she refuses to leave. The next day, the center is attacked, the refugees are taken to an extermination site, she decides to go up with them. She will be killed the last “. Today, she is recognized as a national heroine.