|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Secretary-General Says Nothing Truly Prepares One
for ‘This Epicentre of Evil’, Vowing ‘Loud and Clear — Never Again’
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon’s remarks, as delivered, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, in Oswiecim, Poland, today, 18 November:
Dr. Piotr Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum, Marion Turski, Holocaust survivor and Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, you have my deepest admiration for your courage and perseverance. And you are a leading example how we can let our succeeding generations learn lessons from this horrible past.
I would like to thank at this time, although he is not here, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, who came from Israel to join me today. He had to leave shortly before us for his schedule.
I am truly overwhelmed and humbled. No words can adequately express my feelings. How can a State and individuals be so cruel and use systematic brutality against humanity?
I thank, first of all, the Government of Poland and people, and all the people who made my visit to Auschwitz possible. I welcome the young people doing such inspiring work to bridge faiths and build understanding.
Over the years, I have seen many images of the Nazi concentration camps. I have heard anguished accounts from many survivors. Before I came here, I have talked to Rabbi [Arthur] Schneier, who is a [Holocaust] survivor and also Nobel Peace laureate, as well as UN Messenger of Peace Elie Wiesel. I have also visited Yad Vashem in the past, twice, in Israel and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
Yet nothing can truly prepare one for this epicentre of evil, where systematic murder unique in human history reached its atrocious climax. I stare at the piles of glasses, hair, shoes, prayer shawls and dolls, and try to imagine the individual Jews and others to whom they belonged. I stand in disbelief before the gas chambers and crematorium — and shudder at the cruelty of those who designed this death factory.
Auschwitz survivor and United Nations Messenger of Peace Elie Wiesel wrote of seeing the fires here and thinking that “the civilized world would not allow it”.
Yet 6 million innocent Jews, including 1 million children, were abused and executed. Decades later, it remains almost impossible to come to terms with the nature and scale of this genocidal crime.
Millions of others — including Poles, Sinti, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, the disabled and mentally ill, dissidents and homosexuals — were exterminated in similarly barbarous circumstances.
In the years since, the flames of hatred and persecution have risen again to consume other societies — from the killing fields of Cambodia to the forests of Srebrenica and to the hills of Rwanda.
Even today, the fire smoulders. Anti-Semitism retains its hold in too many places. In Europe and elsewhere, migrants, Muslims, Roma and other minorities face rising discrimination — and find too few defenders.
The world must never forget, deny or downplay the Holocaust. We must remain ever on our guard. And we must do more, far more, to promote equality and fundamental freedoms.
Every day, around the world, the United Nations strives to fulfil its cardinal mission of preventing any other such descent into darkness.
Our Holocaust remembrance event every year, January 27th, marks the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces.
Our Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme works with Yad Vashem and teachers across the world. We will continue to shine a light on these unspeakable crimes so that they [may] never be repeated. We will stand in eternal solidarity with the survivors and safeguard their testimony so their legacy will never die.
We will answer the call of Primo Levi, who encouraged readers of his survival memoir to carve his words “in your hearts” and “repeat them to your children”.
For millions around the world, there is no graveyard to mourn loved ones lost here. For them, Auschwitz is more than a museum or a memorial; it is a cemetery with no headstones — an endless unmarked grave. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not simply a register of atrocities. It is also a repository of courage and hope. Today I say loud and clear: Never again.
In this haunting silence, we see the remnants of human life, we hear the cry of history and humanity. And through all of this, it becomes ever more clear that every life is precious. Every person matters.
For all the victims, let us affirm that we will never forget. For our shared future, let us embrace our common duty as members of the human family to build a world of peace, justice, equality and human dignity for all. Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record