Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s Remarks At UN International Holocaust Commemoration Service

My esteemed friend UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Your Excellencies, all members of the Diplomatic Corps and the UN, my fellow Holocaust survivors and Park East Family and friends all.

I would like to call on my fellow Holocaust survivors to stand.

Our greatest concern, given the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, who is going to tell our story especially when there are those who deny the Holocaust ever took place.

I stand here as a Holocaust survivor who pledged to tell the story of my family cremated in Auschwitz and murdered in Theresienstadt and Lublin.

So we want to thank the United Nations for the Resolution establishing January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was there when it was adopted in 2005. The observance has generated enormous awareness of that great tragedy beyond the United Nations. I salute all the ambassadors who are here and UN officials, Congresswoman Maloney and on behalf of Mayor DeBlasio, Commissioner Penny Abeywardena who are here to remember.

Thinking about memory, I remember as an eight-year-old child, in my home town in Vienna, March 12, 1938 within half an hour after Anschluss, Nazi flags draped the city. My close friends, my non-Jewish classmates, who regularly came to my home, we played soccer, we had fun together, and then overnight, those relationships were cut, and I became a pariah by order of their parents.

Why do I tell you this story? Because the Holocaust did not start just out of nowhere. It started with dehumanization and defamation. It started with der Sturmer, propaganda, hate speech plunder and the burning of synagogues on Kristallnacht. These were the preparatory moves that led to the Holocaust.

So yes, we remember the suffering and persecution and loss of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million Jewish children. Remember we must but let us not get paralyzed just speaking about the past, we have to confront today, the wave of anti-Semitism that has spread not in only in Europe. The American Jewish community got the shock after the horrific attack of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I want to thank the Secretary-General when the Appeal of Conscience Foundation convened a meeting of “United against Hate” on Wednesday after Pittsburgh, he was here at Park East Synagogue with leaders of major faith communities united in solidarity with the American Jewish community against hate.

The cancer of anti-Semitism has spread. How do we stop it? Let me be clear, anti-Semitism does not just victimize Jews. It is an indicator of how a society treats other races and ethnic minorities. It is not only a concern for the Jewish community when this virus spreads. It is an epidemic. How do we cope with it?

Today earlier, one of our students, Hunter Bernhardt celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and read from the Torah the ten commandments. One of the Commandments is “Thou shall not kill.” There is good and kindness in human beings, but also cruelty and evil. I encountered them both. We have to make sure that we are on the side of good and of peaceful coexistence. That’s our challenge.

To cope with it, we cannot be silent. Silence is not the answer; it only encourages the perpetrators.

If you want to judge a society, look at how the majority treats the minority. Jews have been in the minority, throughout history. In the Torah, we are instructed to love your neighbor.

It cannot be done alone. So I propose to the Secretary-General that under your auspices, the UN convene Ministers of Education to have a common approach to ensure that the virus of anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred does not spread to the next generation.

Those of you who know American history, you know that the Ku Klux Klan in 1924, they had eight million followers. Cleverly the organized youth groups to indoctrinate them with hatred.

Last week we saw pictures in the media of an eight-year-old child being taught how to be a suicide bomber.

To stem the scourge of hatred is a daunting challenge that requires the engagement of all of us.

Let me just say something about how fortunate and blessed we are to have Antonio Guterres as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

There is an important Security Council meeting taking place right now; he should be there but where is he? He is with us.
At a time when there is lack of faith and trust in leadership, Antonio Guterres has earned the trust and faith and the confidence of leaders.

And so I am going to give you a new title, it will stick with you: Prophet Antonio.

Why do I say Prophet Antonio? Because you have to have the courage and guts of a prophet to stand up, as he just did in Davos calling for a global response to the global situation today.

It gives me great pleasure to have you join me in welcoming the Secretary-General.