22 January 2011
Rabbi Schneier, Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Shabat Shalom. Good morning. And my best wishes to you for the year to come.
It is a special pleasure to be with you today.
And it is a special honor for me to look out, on this day of days, and see among you some survivors of the Holocaust.
For me, for many people in the world, you are symbols, symbols of human endurance, symbols of hope, symbols of the redemptive power of remembrance.
In a few days, you and other survivors of the Nazi death camps will gather with the international community at United Nations headquarters.
We will come together in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
It is a day to remember the dead, the millions who perished in the darkest chapter of human history.
It is a day to celebrate the lives of those who survived.
Above all, it is a day to speak out, to speak out against those who would deny the Holocaust, who would diminish it or “explain” it away.
Let us also remember: the United Nations was created, in part, to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
In the very best sense, the United Nations was founded in human misery and human tragedy.
As United Nations Secretary-General, I never forget this fundamental mission: to stand, to speak out, for human rights and human decency.
To protect the world's innocents.
To speak for those who would otherwise not be heard.
To offer help to those in need.
We here today know you well. You work hand in hand with us in an Alliance of Civilizations. You are a voice of tolerance and forgiveness against those of hatred and extremism.
For this, we thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Yesterday, at UN Headquarters, I met a group of young people. They came from several countries, and several faiths.
They were accompanied by several Holocaust survivors.
What united them was remembrance. All were members of the International Auschwitz Committee.
Each year, these young people spend several weeks working at the camp, keeping it in shape, preserving the past for generations in the future.
One young woman told me of cleaning the victims' shoes. The childrens' shoes, so small, affected her especially deeply.
Another young person spoke of Auschwitz as a “terrible place.” And yet, it is an important place, she said.
It is important because whoever goes to Auschwitz is changed.
He or she never sees the world in quite the same way again.
Toward the end of our meeting, they surprised me with a gift.
Here it is.
This is not just any letter “B”. It is a replica of the “B” that appeared in the infamous inscription on the gates of Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei.
Prisoners at Auschwitz had been ordered to make that sign, I was told.
And in their anger, they decided to make a stand.
If you look carefully at pictures of the gate, you will see that the “B” is upside down. What might appear to be a mere piece of design is actually a daring act of defiance.
Hidden within the German message emblazoned on that gate, the prisoners of Auschwitz delivered a message of their own:
All is not right here. Something is upside down. Brutally so.
The prisoners saw their act as a sign of hope.
I do, as well.
There is hope in seeing people resist tyranny, however faint their own hopes must have been.
There is hope, too, in seeing the Nazi regime, so renowned for its grim efficiency, miss something hiding in plain sight.
Let me close with something another member of this group told me yesterday.
“For us,” he said, “there are two hearts in the world: one is Auschwitz, the other the United Nations.”
The one is the remembrance of the past. The other is the determination never to let that past be repeated.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations was created in hope, and hope is what it stands for to this day.
On this occasion of solemn remembrance, let us remember that.
Let us work together to make the UN all that it can be, all that it must be, a force for democracy, a champion of freedom, a lamp for human dignity, human rights and human aspiration.
Above all, let us renew our collective determination to never allow such a terrible passage of history to happen again. Never.