Shabbat shalom. Peace to you all. Thank you, Rabbi [Arthur] Schneier, for your kind words and friendship. This will be my last opportunity to take part in this ceremony as Secretary-General.
Each year, I deeply value the opportunity to join your congregation to honour the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. I wish to pay special tribute to the survivors with us today. Thank you for sharing your stories.
I will always be haunted by all that I saw and heard when I visited Auschwitz in 2013. The testimonies of Holocaust survivors remind us what happens when we allow inhumanity to prevail. They also remind us of the power of the human spirit and the inherent dignity and worth of every person.
Rabbi Schneier is a Holocaust survivor himself and an eloquent advocate for humanity. I thank him for his outstanding work in support of the United Nations, in particular with our Holocaust Outreach Programme. This year, the United Nations and our partners organized more than 120 Holocaust remembrance events in 36 countries.
Rabbi Schneier is also an important contributor to the Alliance of Civilizations. He knows, as we know, that only by breaking down the walls of intolerance and division can we prevent new conflicts and genocide. We must work together to build bridges and end anti-Semitism, bigotry against Muslims and all other forms of hatred.
The Holocaust was a colossal crime. Six million Jews were systematically rounded up and murdered. Millions of others were killed alongside them, prisoners of war, political dissidents, members of minority groups, such as Roma and Sinti, homosexuals and persons with disabilities. The evidence is irrefutable. Those who deny it only perpetuate falsehoods and make a mockery of the pain.
This year, we focus on “the Holocaust and Human Dignity”. We must ask ourselves why and how this could happen and together work to prevent such atrocities from happening again. As Primo Levi so memorably said: “It happened, thus it can happen again.”
I have been reminded of this stark truth many times as Secretary-General. I have visited the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. I have been to the site of the massacre at Srebrenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, in Cambodia. Today, I am deeply disturbed by the massacres in South Sudan, by the continued carnage in Syria, and by the atrocities being inflicted by Da’esh and Boko Haram.
I see international humanitarian law being flouted on a global scale. But, I do not see the international community holding the perpetrators to account. The world faces a crisis of protection. That is why it is so important that we never forget the lessons of the Holocaust.
This year’s theme of “the Holocaust and Human Dignity” links Holocaust remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations. In the face of intolerance and hatred, we should be inspired by the many heroes of the Holocaust who, despite great personal risk, stood against the horror and defended innocent lives. These are heroes who, regardless of religion or nationality, stood up for and demonstrated human dignity.
In today’s climate of growing of global fear and alienation, we must not lose sight of the fundamental truth that all humans are born with inalienable rights, dignity and worth. Our fellow human beings have the same aspirations as we do, lives of peace, prosperity and progress.
Last year, the United Nations marked its seventieth anniversary. We also saw the biggest crisis of forced displacement since the Second World War.
The millions of Syrians and others fleeing appalling violence and persecution are being victimized several times over: at home, where life is impossible; by smugglers and by other perils of their journeys; and by harsh treatment on arrival in places where they hope to find asylum. Demonizing and scapegoating these people based on their religion, ethnicity or country of origin has no place in the twenty-first century.
Rabbi Schneier is a champion of interfaith understanding. With him, I reiterate our collective responsibility to open the doors of mutual tolerance and compassion. Today, more than ever, we must stand united. The memory of the Holocaust guides us by reminding us what can happen when we stop seeing our common humanity.
Only by remembering the past can we hope to shape a better future. So, today, let us reflect on the lives lost during the Holocaust and rededicate ourselves to creating an inclusive world, with human dignity for all.