The international community has not yet found the antidote to the poison that led to genocide 70 years ago, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust by calling strongly for the world to work together to stamp out all forms of bigotry, hatred and extremism.
“As we remember what was lost in the past, and as we recognize the perils of the present, we know what we must do – and we know we must do it together,” said Mr. Ban in opening remarks to the UN General Assembly’s annual commemoration of the Day.
Joining the Secretary-General at the event this afternoon were, among other speakers, Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel, and Denis Antoine, Vice-President of the General Assembly, as well as Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans. Maher Nasser, the acting UN Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, presided over the event.
The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust is marked every year on 27 January, the date on which Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated in 1945. This year's observance, on the theme 'Liberty, Life and the Legacy of the Holocaust Survivors', coincides with two milestone events: the 70th anniversary of the Second World War's end and the founding of the UN.
Recalling his visit to the Auschwitz Birkenau camp in November 2013, Mr. Ban said: “I saw the full machinery of murder: the railway platform where the infamous selections were made; the barracks that held Jews, Roma, Sinti, non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, dissidents, disabled persons and homosexuals; and finally the ovens where human beings were turned to ashes.”
“I was especially moved by the displays of photographs and films of European Jewish life before tyranny took hold – family meals, weddings and other rituals, performances by the singers and actors who enlivened the cities in which they lived. We can still feel the pain of all that was lost and destroyed in a frenzy of cruelty,” the Secretary-General added.
The images of emaciated camp survivors and piles of dead bodies were prominent in the minds of those who gathered to establish the United Nations, Mr. Ban continued. A determination to uphold human dignity was written into the Organization’s founding Charter 70 years ago – and has defined the UN’s work ever since. But there is still a long way to go. The struggle for justice and tolerance faces widespread challenges. “Anti-Semitism remains a violent reality; Jews continue to be killed solely because they are Jews. Extremism and dehumanization are present across the world, exploited through social media and abetted by sensationalist press coverage. The targets are as diverse as humankind itself,” the Secretary-General said.
In Europe and elsewhere, Muslims are under attack, the victims of bigotry at the hands of political opportunists and ultra-nationalists. Vulnerable populations everywhere bury their dead and live in fear of further violence.
“I take heart from counter-demonstrations, rallies and interfaith dialogue. We must all remain on our guard. We must uphold human rights, democratic freedoms and our responsibility to protect people at risk. And we must respond to terrorism and provocation in ways that resolve – instead of multiply – the problem,” he underscored.
In his address, Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel, recalled the “brutal”, “perverted” extermination of Jews during the Holocaust “in the most horrifying crime ever committed in the history of the human race.” The United Nations rose on the ruins of the Second World War, he said, stressing that the International Day was not just a gesture because the pledge ‘Never again’ was “the very essence of the UN,” and the principle and primary reason for its existence.
However, since the UN was founded, more nations and communities had been slaughtered. “We must ask ourselves honestly: is our struggle – the struggle of the General Assembly against genocide – effective enough?” he said. “Are we shedding too many tears and taking too little action?”
Mr. Rivlin noted that the Convention on Genocide was now 64 years-old but remained a merely “symbolic document” that had not realized its objectives. The international community had a duty to lay down the red lines defining genocide and to make clear that crossing those lines must mean intervention. Humanitarian and moral considerations had to take precedence over economic, political or other interests in the fight against genocide.
“Nations cannot be saved and must not be saved as an afterthought or from considerations of cost-benefit,” Mr. Rivlin said. “Unless the moral fire burns within us, the lessons of the Holocaust will never be learned.”
The General Assembly must act as a determined and unified international community or else risk leaving the ‘Never again’ oath hollow and defiled.
“We must remain silent no longer. We must rise up and take action,” he said.
Also in opening remarks, General Assembly Vice-President Denis Antoine also underscored the importance of drawing lessons from the tragedy of the Holocaust and the need to “pass them on to the present and future generations,” particularly as the world continued to conf