By Diana Skaya
MONTREAL (Horizon Weekly)—The first time I ever heard of Frantz Werfel’s novel The 40 Days of Musa Dagh, which drew the world’s attention to the Armenian Genocide, was by a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto living in Montreal, Renata Zajdman. I was quite surprised to hear that non- Armenians were reading this book that was passed around inside the ghetto. Back then, I wondered why in particular had Werfel’s novel made such an impact inside the ghettos.
Three years ago, it would have never crossed my mind that during this past week, I would be standing so close to Musa Dagh than I could have ever imagined and get to interview each and every one of them personally.
As part of the commemoration events of the Armenian Genocide centennial, two events were held on the 10thand 12th of December. On the first evening, the opening of the exhibition on the 40 Days of Musa Dagh was presented at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, followed by a lecture given by Dr. Yair Auron, Israeli historian, professor, speaker at the American university in Armenia and head of the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication of The Open University of Israel, entitled: “The impact of Werfel’s work, The 40 Days of Musa Dagh, on the Jewish resistance during the Second World War”. Also present that day was Vazken Der Kaloustian, the son of the leader of the resistance, Movses Der Kaloustian.
On the 12th of December, among others, a lecture entitled “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh: A Historical Perspective” was given by Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. “For many Jews Musa Dagh became a symbol of survival and revival”. Dr. Gregorian also happened to be the person behind the transporting of Frantz Werfel’s remains from California to Vienna.
Professor Yair Auron stated how Werfel’s novel considered as one of the 100 books of the 20th century, with various versions, editions and translations published internationally, raises typical Jewish questions, such as Jews and Armenians sharing the same fate. For many Jews in Europe, Musa Dagh became a symbol, a model, and an example, especially during the horrific days of the Second World War. Jews who read the book inside the ghettos believed that the story, though speaking about the Armenians, contained many references to Judaism and it had a profound significance upon many of them.
Professor Auron organized the first ever Armenian Genocide conference in Israel just a few months ago. During his presentation, he declared how only a very small percentage of Israeli people know about the massacre perpetrated by the Ottoman Government on the Armenians in 1915, and expressed regret that The State of Israel has yet to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, mentioning that in fact Israeli relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan is a possible cause in the Israeli government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.
“Genocide is still happening every hour”, quoted Auron, “and saving human lives is a lesson of the impact of the holocaust and genocide”.
He placed an importance on combining history and memory and on how crucial Genocide education is for today’s youth and society.
“We need to work together. It is important for civil society to work together-beyond governments – to do more in order to prevent genocide”.