The United Nations held a special ceremony today to pay homage to the six million Jews and countless others slaughtered in the Nazi death camps of the Second World War, stressing that the drive to prevent a repetition of such horror was one of the reasons the Organization was founded.
The ceremony, originally scheduled for 27 January, the annual Holocaust memorial day, was delayed by a heavy snow storm in New York.
“Let us remember: the United Nations was created, in part, to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “As United Nations Secretary-General, I never forget this fundamental mission.”
This year’s theme paid special tribute to the suffering of women, and Mr. Ban highlighted the role played by the mothers and daughters, grandmothers, sisters and aunts. “They saw their lives irrevocably changed, their families separated and killed, their traditions shattered,” he declared.
“Yet, despite appalling acts of cruelty, they consistently found ways to fight back against their persecutors. They joined the resistance, rescued those in peril, smuggled food into ghettos and sacrificed to keep their children alive. Their courage continues to inspire.”
General Assembly President Joseph Deiss underscored the need to foster a culture of peace, of tolerance and of respect. “The United Nations is born out of the ruins of the Second World War and the devastation of the Holocaust,” he said.
“We have to stand up against the follies of genocides that have repeated throughout history. We must uphold the standards and laws put in place by the United Nations to protect people and fight impunity for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka said the courage and strength of the millions of women and girls who were murdered, suffered and bravely endured the Holocaust deserve special recognition and acknowledgement.
“Tragically, there are women around the world today who continue to suffer the consequences of war and conflict,” he added. “The United Nations has resolved to ensure that the rights of women and girls are protected, and their needs met.”
The General Assembly in 2005 designated 27 January, the date of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the largest and most notorious of all of the concentration camps, as the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
Beyond the millions of Jews killed, hundreds of thousands of others, including Roma, Slavs, disabled people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, communists and other political dissidents are estimated to have perished in the camps.
Other speakers in today’s ceremony included Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, whose grandparents, Elka and Shmuel Godin, died in the Treblinka camp in Poland, and Lenore Weitzman, Professor Emeritus at George Mason University, who is presently completing work on a book about the young women who served as secret underground “couriers” for Jewish resistance movements in the ghettos.
“On this day, when we remember the six million victims, let us also remember two lessons: first, ‘the Holocaust – never again.’ And second – an independent, strong, thriving and peaceful State of Israel is the vengeance of the dead,” said Mr. Barak.
“It is also the comfort for those remaining alive. Thus we have the uppermost responsibility to protect and defend it for the future generations,” he added.