29 January 2008

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General notes timeliness of rights declaration anniversary at opening

of exhibition to honour holocaust victims, celebrate those who protected jews

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message at the opening of the exhibition “The Holocaust – Stories of Rescue:  ‘BESA - A Code Of Honour:  Muslim Albanians Who Saved Jews during the Holocaust’ and ‘Carl Lutz and the Legendary Glass House in Budapest’”, as delivered by Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, in New York today, 29 January:

It is an honour for the United Nations to host this exhibition in connection with the third International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.  On this Day, unanimously proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, we honour the memory of every victim and stand in solidarity with Holocaust survivors and victims’ families around the world.

The Holocaust demonstrated that human beings are capable of great cruelty, but also of great courage and strength in the face of evil.  This exhibition focuses on the latter aspect -- on the story of individuals who stood up to rescue Jews when so many others turned a blind eye or collaborated in the murder of Jews and other minorities.

One segment provides a fascinating account of Muslim Albanian families who saved Jews during World War II.  The photographs are profoundly moving portraits of people who, through their conscience and courage, without regard for religious differences, risked their lives to shelter their Jewish neighbours, friends and strangers.

The other segment highlights the work of Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz to rescue Jews in Budapest in 1944.  For persecuted Jews, the actions of diplomats often literally meant the difference between life and death.  Carl Lutz, Vice Consul of Switzerland in the Hungarian capital, issued certificates of emigration to place tens of thousands of Jews under Swiss protection, thus saving many of them from near certain extinction.

It is particularly fitting that we open the exhibition this year, as the United Nations commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a campaign to bring the concept of “Dignity and Justice for All” to people everywhere.  The campaign reminds us that in a world still reeling from the horrors of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration was the first global statement of what many now take for granted:  the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings.

Today, we honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and those who protected and saved lives.  We vow to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to our lives, and to those of succeeding generations.  May this exhibition inspire us in that mission.

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For information media • not an official record