Calling on the world to “stand together against the normalisation of hate,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised in his message on January 27, the International Day dedicated to honouring Holocaust victims, that everyone has a responsibility to quickly and decisively resist racism and violence.
Guterres recalled that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created to honour the memory of six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered in the Holocaust and countless others who lost their lives as cruelty convulsed the world.
Yet, decades since the Second World War, there is still the persistence of anti-Semitism and an increase in other forms of prejudice.
Citing Neo-Nazis and white supremacy groups as among the main purveyors of extreme hatred, the UN chief said that too often, vile views are moving from the margins to the mainstream of societies and politics.
“Whenever and wherever humanity’s values are abandoned, we are all at risk,” the UN Secretary-General said.
“All of us have a responsibility to quickly, clearly and decisively resist racism and violence,” he said, adding: “Through education and understanding, we can build a future of dignity, human rights and peaceful coexistence for all.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein held the painful day of remembrance for Holocaust the victims as forcing us “to contemplate the horrors to which bigotry, racism and ultimately led.”
“The sadistic brutality of the atrocities inflicted by the Nazi regime on Jews, Roma, Slavs, disabled people, political dissidents, homosexuals and others was nourished by layer upon layer of propaganda, falsifications and incitement to hatred,” he said, adding how they were denigrated and smeared, “one after another, their rights were refused, and finally, even their humanity was denied.”
Zeid pointed to the statement of Primo Levi, who survived the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp: “It happened, therefore it can happen again.”
“As we honour the victims of the Holocaust,” Zeid said, “we must also acknowledge the need to prevent the recurrence of anti-Semitism and all forms of racial and religious hatred and discrimination today.”
He specified the importance of upholding independent rule of law institutions and a free press; maintaining respect for human rights; and education, which must be at the core of all efforts to combat anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of discrimination.
“In honouring the victims of the Holocaust, we must recognise that only if we regard each other as fully equal in dignity and rights will we be able to come together to overcome the many challenges facing humanity,” he said.
Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay cited International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a call to strengthen nations’ commitment to peace.
Recalling the possibility of the worst, also carries a memory that must be forward-looking, she said, adding that combating anti-Semitism, in whatever form, “is at the heart of this fight” in which everyone has a role to play.
“We can build up awareness against forgetting, denial, historical revisionism, relativization of crimes and the return of stereotypes that fuel hatred. We can oppose the manipulation of facts by speaking the truth,” she said.
Among a series of events taking place across the UN system, the annual United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony hosted by Alison Smale, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, will take place on January 31. The Secretary-General, President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, Representatives of the State of Israel, Germany and the United States, will deliver remarks.
On the ocasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, EU foreign policy chief Federdica Mogherini said that remembering Europe’s dark past and translating what we have learned from our experience into our policies is critical to prevent against the rise of anti-Semitism, discrimination and hate speech in Europe.
“The Holocaust and World War Two have defined Europe’s modern history like no other event. Our European Union was founded on the desire to say ‘never again’,” Mogherini said.
The Nazi regime and its allies tried to destroy Europe’s diversity – by killing Jews, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, people with disabilities, everyone who did not share the Nazi ideology. After this tragedy – the greatest tragedy in human history – we embraced our diversity and made it the foundation of our Union,” Mogherini said.
“But still, 70 years later, anti-Semitism, discrimination and hate speech are again on the rise in Europe,” noted Mogherini. “The best antidote against this madness is knowledge. It is essential that our children learn about the Shoah and visit Auschwitz and other concentration camps, to understand what happened and never let it happen again.
“But it is even more important that Jewish culture remains the integral part of our shared European culture it always has been. The history of our European Union is linked to the history of the Jewish people. The European Union could not exist without the memory of the Shoah, and it could not exist without European Jews.
“Preserving and transmitting the memory is a duty towards those who lost their lives, and towards our children. Memory cannot only work backwards: it also has to shape our present and our future.
“The words we say on Holocaust Remembrance Day must translate into policies for every other day. And every day we work with our partners to fight terrorism, antisemitism, xenophobia and hate speech all across our region. We work to preserve not just the memory of the Holocaust, but our continent’s cultural and religious diversity. The only way to honour the memory of the Holocaust is to turn remembrance into the promise of a better future,” Mogherini said.
(Close-up of a photograph of Anne Frank, part of the exhibit ‘Monument of Good Deeds: Dreams and Hopes of Children During the Holocaust,’ which was held in 2012 at UN Headquarters. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)