The United Nations today honoured the memory of the more than 1.5 million boys and girls who perished in the Holocaust, with top officials stressing the need to speak out against intolerance and to protect the lives and human rights of children around the world.
“We will never know what these children might have contributed to our world. And among the survivors, many were too shattered to tell their stories. Today, we seek to give voice to those accounts,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message for the seventh annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
“That is why the United Nations continues to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust,” he said. “It is why we strive to promote children’s rights and aspirations – every day and everywhere…
“Today, as we remember all those lost during the Holocaust – young and old alike – I call on all nations to protect the most vulnerable, regardless of race, colour, gender or religious beliefs.”
The UN held a ceremony at its New York Headquarters today to mark the International Day, which is observed annually on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. The event marked the culmination of a series of events held this week, focusing on the theme “Children and the Holocaust,” that included film screenings, exhibits and talks, sharing children’s stories during that era and spreading awareness of their experiences.
“Without doubt, the best tribute to the memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust – and to those who survived – is to keep teaching its universal lessons,” Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said at the ceremony.
This, he added, is the most important objective of the UN Department of Public Information’s Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme, which organized this week’s events.
“Today, the United Nations remembers these children and pledges to continue to work to ensure the protection of the lives and human rights of children around the world,” said Mr. Akasaka.
Noting the presence of survivors and their families at the ceremony, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said “the presence of each of you here today tells us that every human being has a sacred duty to speak out in the face of injustice and intolerance, regardless of any colour, religion or ethnicity.”
He called for honouring all the victims by taking preventive action so that hatred, injustice, discrimination, inhumanity, ethnic cleansing and mass killings have no chance to occur anywhere to anyone.
The Holocaust, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, serves as a reminder of the perils of discrimination and intolerance, of how powerful the incitement to racial hatred can be, and of the importance of intervening early to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.
She also stressed the importance of ‘learning from the past’ so that young people today are aware of historical events and can understand the impact of their words and attitudes towards those who are different from them.
“Hateful words can translate into hateful actions and the consequences can be dire. Children and young people must be taught their history, including the terrible mistakes of the past, so that they can be vigilant against all manifestations of hatred from the outset,” she said in a statement.