'We are being tested again,' Ban warns as UN marks 70 years since Auschwitz liberation

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and his wife Yoo Soon-taek visit the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in November 2013. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

27 January 2015 – Seventy years ago today, allied forces liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, urging renewed vigilance to eradicate the deep roots of hatred as anti-Semitic attacks continue and vulnerable communities around the world bury their dead while living in fear of further violence.

“More than a million inmates, primarily Jews, were brutally and systematically killed in the place where the Nazis introduced the monstrous concept of 'industrialized murder.' Among the other victims were non-Jewish Poles, political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, disabled persons and Jehovah's witnesses,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks on the day.

“Unprecedented in human history, this mass killing was motivated by the perverse, race-based ideology of the Nazis, who sought to track down and kill every last Jew and any others they considered to be inferior,” added the Secretary-General.

The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust is marked every year on 27 January, the date on which Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated in 1945. This year's observance, on the theme 'Liberty, Life and the Legacy of the Holocaust Survivors', coincides with two milestone events: the 70th anniversary of the Second World War's end and the founding of the UN.

“Humankind united to overcome the Nazi menace. Today, we are being tested again. Minorities everywhere often face bigotry. Sectarian tensions and other forms of intolerance are on the rise,” Mr. Ban emphasized as he pledged the commitment of the UN to protecting the vulnerable, promoting fundamental human rights and upholding the freedom, dignity and worth of every person.

The overall mission of the United Nations was shaped by the tragedy of the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Secretary-General explained. Both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrine the principles of human rights for all peoples around the world.

“The violence and bias we see every day are stark reminders of the distance still to travel in upholding human rights, preventing genocide and defending our common humanity. We must redouble our efforts to eradicate the deep roots of hatred and intolerance. People everywhere must unite to stop the cycles of discord and build a world of inclusion and mutual respect,” Mr. Ban declared.

For the past decade, the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme has mobilized students and educators around the world to help us achieve these goals, the UN chief said. “We are grateful to our many partners including Holocaust survivors who have contributed to this work, which spanned 42 countries in the past year alone.”

This year's events include the annual ceremony, exhibits, a film screening, discussions and a special exhibit that recognizes the work of the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme since its creation 10 years ago by the UN General Assembly.

With UN Headquarters closed today due to inclement weather, the annual General Assembly commemoration of the International Day has been rescheduled for Wednesday, 28 January. The event will feature remarks from, among others, the Secretary-General, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, a Holocaust survivor, and a Soviet Army veteran. Mr. Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, will deliver the keynote address. Grammy-award winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari and Cantor Shimmy Miller, Congregation Ahavath Torah, will recite the memorial prayers accompanied by keyboardist Daniel Gildar.


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