Top UN officials have stressed the importance of sharing the stories of the men, women and children who survived Nazi death camps as a way to encourage respect for diversity and human rights.
“Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever – but the legacy of their survival must live on,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message to mark the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
“All of them carry a crucial message for all of us,” he stated. “A message about the triumph of the human spirit. A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail.
“We must preserve their stories – through memorials… through education… most of all through robust efforts to prevent genocide and other grave crimes,” said the Secretary-General, pledging the full commitment of the UN to this cause.
In her statement to mark the Day, the UN human rights chief noted that it is now more than 60 years since the systematic murder of one third of the Jewish people, as well as thousands of other victims, including Roma, Slavs, disabled people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, communists and political dissidents.
“But the grotesque nature and scale of the Holocaust is in no way diminished by the passing of time,” stated High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
She added that a continued focus on the Holocaust helps people to remain alert to the dangers presented by contemporary outbreaks of anti-Semitism and various forms of vilification and discrimination targeting other specific racial, ethnic or social groups.
“Remembering the Holocaust, and how it came about, can – and should – help us to intervene much earlier in the escalating pattern of prejudice that can lead eventually to genocide. It is also an essential response to those who claim that the Holocaust never happened,” Ms. Pillay said.
In 2005, the General Assembly designated 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, as the International Day.
This year’s observance includes a memorial ceremony and concert, as well as the opening of two exhibitions at UN Headquarters in New York, one titled “Generations: Survival and the Legacy of Hope” and the other titled “Architecture of Murder: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints.”
Speaking at the opening of the exhibit last night, Mr. Ban remarked that the blueprints for Auschwitz-Birkenau show just how many people it took to build “this enterprise of death,” from the Nazi leaders who commissioned the extermination camps and the architects and engineers who designed the gas chambers and crematoria, to the drivers who delivered the wood, the workers who hammered the nails and laid the bricks, and those who turned on the poison gas.
“This exhibition delivers a vital message that bears repeating again and again: the Holocaust did not just happen; it was planned,” said Mr. Ban. “The abominable crimes committed against so many millions of Jews and others were not just incidental casualties of war; they were its very intent.”
Events are also being held around the world to mark the Day, including a screening of the film As Seen Through Their Eyes by a number of UN information centres.