International Day of commemoration
in memory of the victims of the Holocaust
Memorial Ceremony and Concert
General Assembly Hall
27 January 2010
Ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig,
Permanent Representative of Germany
to the United Nations
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Martin Weiss and his eight brothers and sisters grew up in a Jewish family in the village of Polana in Slovakia. When he and his family were deported to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, he was 15 years old.
He later recounted their arrival [and I quote]: “If you ever saw bedlam, or if you could imagine hell, that must have been it. Because everybody was trying to hold on to their children; they tried to hold on to each other.” On the same day Martin Weiss – still a boy – had to let go the warm embrace of his parents, his brothers and sisters. He was forcefully separated from the rest of his family. He was found fit enough to work.
A short time later he learned of the fate of his relatives [and I quote]: “We saw these big flames coming out from under a bunch of pine trees. [...] And we could also smell flesh burning. And then we saw the chimneys, the big five chimneys with black smoke coming out. [...] And so by next morning, when we saw those fires, we realized that all our families were already going up in smoke by that time.”
I am speaking to you today with humility and emotion to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust – Jews like Martin Weiss's family. We also commemorate the victims of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, of other minorities, of prisoners of war, dissidents and many others from all across Europe.
It was under the command of German Nazis that Martin Weiss's family was killed in the gas chambers and burned in the crematorium ovens at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Millions of others were barbarically tortured, brutally murdered through forced labor or pseudo-medical experiments, executed and gassed.
The name of my country will always be linked to this despicable crime against humanity. We must not and will not abdicate our historic and moral responsibility for the Holocaust.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This responsibility also shapes our foreign policy. This is particularly evident in our country's relationship with the State of Israel. Its right to exist and the security of its citizens will remain non-negotiable for us.
Our past also makes it our duty to combat all forms of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and intolerance. We must not sit idly by while people are insulted, attacked or injured because of their faith, their race or color, their origin, because of their disabilities, their gender or their sexual orientation.
And we are fully committed to the United Nations’ efforts to prevent genocide. The international community has learned that genocide never happens entirely without warning. And that is why we have to work to combat its harbingers, such as civil war, the abuse of human rights, but also hate propaganda and the glorification of violence.
We are convinced that the United Nations is uniquely suited for this task – with its extensive experience in conflict prevention and its manifold instruments to promote development. But we must further strengthen the world organization in these fields. This is thus one of the priorities of German foreign policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Martin Weiss had to endure a year of forced labor before he was sent on to the Mauthausen concentration camp where he was liberated by US troops in May 1945. Today, Martin Weiss lives in the United States and serves as a volunteer at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He is celebrating his 81st birthday tomorrow.
We, who still have the opportunity to listen to him and his fellow survivors, like Prof. Nechama Tec, we have a duty to pass on their painful history to the younger generation. And we bear a special responsibility to do our utmost to prevent genocide in the future. We owe that to Martin Weiss and his suffering, to his family and all the countless others who were murdered. We also owe it to all those courageous men and women, who stood up against the Nazis. We owe it to those, who were driven into exile or forced labour. And finally we owe it to the growing number of Jewish citizens who came back to live in Germany and enrich our country.
My country has opened a new chapter. For over 60 years now we live in a thriving democracy with a vigilant civil society. A joint German-Israeli orchestra and chorus is performing for us today. This event testifies to the bonds that have grown between Germany and Israel over the past decades. It also sends out a strong message of hope for the future.
I thank you.