The crimes of Nazism should not be forgotten and the memory of the Holocaust cannot be allowed to disappear with the last surviving witnesses, Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev said on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Plevneliev was speaking during a discussion among heads of state at the “Let my people live” forum in Prague, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
He said that if European societies do not learn from the past, they will continue to repeat the mistakes.
“The major topic of the victims of totalitarian regimes is crucial for me as head of state, and for the Bulgarian people,” Plevneliev said.
The president said paying tribute to the memory of the Holocaust victims is a message of unity to all the peoples of the world and that every leader is responsible for ensuring that a similar tragedy does not happen in the future.
“When we honour the dead and hear the stories of survivors, we have to ask how civilised world let this happen,” he said.
Plevneliev emphasised that a tragedy of this magnitude could not be explained solely by pointing to the initiators and perpetrators of massacres. “It lies also with those who remained indifferent and who thought that this does not affect them,” he said.
He recalled the words of tribute to the Bulgarian people from the former President of Israel, Shimon Peres, spoken two years ago in the European Parliament, at the opening of the exhibition dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews during World War 2: “It is better that we face an economic crisis than a moral catastrophe, it is better to have economic problems than to attract historical shame”.
Plevneliev said that Peres had described the Bulgarian people as a modest but genuinely heroic nation that gave the world an unprecedented example of courage and humanity, the moral choice to oppose the greatest evil in history – Nazism.
He told the forum that in the darkest years of World War 2, the Bulgarian people had managed to save the entire Jewish community in the country, almost 50 000 people, and he regretted that Bulgaria had not been able to do the same Jews from northern Greece and parts of Yugoslavia who were Bulgarian citizens.
“We mourn deeply for their death, and for all victims of the Holocaust, whose memory will remember forever,” Plevneliev said.
“We must not forget that in every society there is always someone who prefers violence to words, and there will always be fanatics and extremists who are trying to justify their crimes in the name of God,” he said.
Plevneliev said that the brutal killing of innocent people cannot be justified by religious beliefs and that the life of every person is precious and people are equal whether they profess Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any other religion.
The brutal attack in Paris caused a wave of general solidarity today Europe’s citizens, openly declaring their determination to defend the inviolability of dignity, freedom and human life, he said.
Plevneliev called on participants in the forum to unite against terrorism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
He said that this evening, as part of a campaign of Jewish organizations including European Jewish Association, the lights of the presidential institution in Bulgaria would remain on in a show of support to all people in Europe today who have concerns for their safety.
“This is a symbolic gesture, but it shows that sometimes the smallest effort is enough to banish the darkness and again to inspire hope and light,” Plevneliev said.
Even the greatest evil can be prevented if people regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation, unite and firmly say “no” to hatred, the President said, and recalled the words of Lassana Bathily, who saved a number of people during the hostage crisis in Paris: “We are brothers. No matter whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. We’re all in the same boat and we have to help to deal with it.”
Plevneliev emphasised that today in the “heart” of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, the houses of worship of different religions stand together – Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, a mosque and a synagogue.
“They exist side by side in peace and this is a great example of tolerance, wisdom and respect for differences,” Plevneliev said.
Later on January 27, Plevneliev was to join a number of European state and government leaders in Poland for the “March of Silence” to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.3 million Jews died in what was then Nazi-occupied Poland, part of the more than six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War 2.