It is written in the Talmud that “He who saves one life has saved the world.” Sylvain Brachfeld has internalized that message.
The Holocaust survivor’s story of being saved multiple times by the Resistance and Righteous Among the Nations, captivated members of the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS delegation of young professionals and invited diplomats last week in Tel Aviv.
AJC ACCESS is the young leadership track of the American Jewish Committee, comprised of ambitious professionals. AJC ACCESS Israel works with Israeli-based international diplomats so they can expose them to the many facets of Israeli society and opinions.
Zikaron BaSalon (Memory in the Living Room) is an example of one of the ACCESS events held each year. Over the course of the evening, Brachfeld told his story in detail and his message of hope resonated with a few of the diplomats hailing from countries who have a dark past when it comes to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Avital Leibovich, the director of AJC Jerusalem, is proud of ACCESS’s commitment to tell Brachfeld’s story and said, “We are facing two related challenges as Jewish people: fighting global antisemitism and preserving the memory of the Shoah. Exposing the young generation of foreign diplomats to one of the 175,000 survivors and hearing his moving testimony, is one step [of many] in handling the challenge.”
“Brachfeld is a very remarkable person and is a true historian of the Holocaust,” Andreas Lins, the deputy ambassador of Austria, said of the survivor who wrote several books on Belgian Jewry in the Holocaust and sat on the committee for Righteous Among the Nations for nine years.
“Listening to his personal stories was a very touching experience. It will always be a touching experience to listen to anybody willing to share his story,” said Lins, who hosted the event at his home and was one of the 16 diplomats from ten countries who attended the event.
It was his story of hope against all odds that resonated with Lins and other diplomats, some of which heard a survivor speak for the first time.
“I like very much the idea of having these discussions in an intimate setting, it really touches your heart. Despite everything he went through, the fact that he was helped to hide several times by non-Jews shows that even in times of horror, there is humanity,” said Ramunas Davidonis, the deputy ambassador of Lithuania.
“He mentioned in a matter of fact way that in the Jewish school he attended in Antwerp, out of 31 people, 26 had died in the Holocaust. To imagine this number and see he survived by sheer luck and no logic is astounding,” Lins marveled.
Lins believes Austria has come a long way from its dark past of complicity with the Nazi regime.
“We have a responsibility to show that our remorse is genuine – we are willing to put money into this – restitutions, making sure [displaced] Austrians can get their citizenship back, art given back to the right heirs, etc. I think it’s a fair assessment that we came a long way,” he said.
“This is a road that has to be traveled the whole time and it has be worked on constantly. It’s not like we check a box and we’re good. We all must work on educating the young generation,” he added.
The event was followed by similar AJC ACCESS talks in both New York and Atlanta.