Political leaders have not yet taken up their responsibility to speak out loudly against neo-Nazism, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, warning that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
Meeting Norbert Strauss on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht attack on Germany's Jews, the Secretary-General said that testimony from Holocaust survivors needed to be heard anew, and fully understood as an ever-present reminder of what can happen if societies let down their guard.
“Anti-Semitism is back and it needs to be fought as the crime it is,” Mr. Guterres said. He called on leaders and Governments to “clearly denounce and make evident the real risk of anti-Semitism in our societies today.”
In an intimate meeting in his office at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Guterres listened as Mr. Strauss recounted what it was like as an 11-year-old, to witness attacks and desecration of Jewish sites and monuments in Germany, and ultimately to flee the country.
Anti-Semitism is back and it needs to be fought as the crime it is - UN chief Guterres
Today’s meeting took place on the anniversary of Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass".
The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass found on streets after windows of Jewish-owned buildings and synagogues were smashed during that night of violence in 1938.
Mr. Guterres said that he was particularly touched by the imagery, since crystals had been symbols of beauty, horribly transformed since then, now coming to symbolize “the end of the age of denial about the Holocaust.”
Mr. Strauss was among a group meeting the UN chief, including members of non-profit organizations advocating for the Jewish community. They gifted Mr. Guterres books related to the Holocaust. “Only the truth can allow humanity to progress,” Mr. Guterres said, encouraging young people to continue to learn about history. “If we hide the past, we will never be able to overcome it.”
The visit comes just days after an anti-Semitic gunman went on the rampage in the US city of Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a mostly-Jewish suburb, while they attended Shabat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The UN chief condemned the "horrendous act" noting that anti-Semitism is the "oldest and more permanent kind of hatred" to have endured "in the history of humankind".
Also on Friday, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) held an educators’ workshop titledPractical Tools for Celebrating Diversity and Antidiscrimination, in observance of the Kristallnacht Pogrom and the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event featured Facing History & Ourselves and a new online resource for teachers called Stories That Move – a toolbox for antidiscrimination.