Opening Remarks made by Ms. Karen Pierce,
Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honour to be here on behalf of the UK Government, I would like to thank Under Secretary General Akasaka, and I would like to pay particular thanks to the organisers of this event, in particular Deborah Oppenheimer, and David Marwell. I should like to start by commending those involved in organising this week’s programme of event, including the co-ordinating role of the United Nations Outreach Programme.
The documentary film we are about to watch tells the story of the Jewish children from Germany taken in by British families in the years immediately preceding the Second World War – a time when many were closing their eyes to the horrors unfolding in Nazi Germany.
We all know that the Holocaust was one of the most tragic events in human history. That can not be overstated. Its lessons are universal and have implications for us all. We have a duty to ensure that it has a permanent place in the collective memory of every nation.
It is essential that we continue to hear the voices of survivors and that these voices are heard – not just now, also in the future. We pay great tribute to the survivors who have told their stories at the events of this week and to those who join us tonight.
My own Government is determined that the horrendous crimes committed during the Holocaust – and the racism and victimisation that paved the way for those crimes – are neither forgotten nor repeated, and that all victims of the Nazi persecution are remembered. We believe that education and remembrance are key tools in achieving that objective.
In May 1998, the Swedish, British and US Governments established the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. These governments were subsequently joined by Germany, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, France and Italy. There are now 25 member countries. And if I may make a personal digression for a moment, this is a subject very close to me, as I worked on it for 10 years in London, prior to coming to New York.
The first official Holocaust Memorial Day was held in the UK in 2001. Every year, activities and events take place across the country throughout the week leading up to 27 January. In 2007 there were at least 480 local events involving many thousands of people. This year's theme – ‘imagine, remember, reflect, react’ – seeks to capture the essence of our collective responsibility.
There is a statutory requirement in British schools to teach about the Holocaust. The Holocaust Educational Trust and The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust do important work educating and informing people of all ages and from all walks of life on the significance of the holocaust and its relevance today.
The Holocaust was a unique event. Sadly, however, one need only look at more recent events – for instance in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo – to understand that mass killing and persecution inspired by racism and prejudice are an ever present threat. These events remind us that racism and prejudice can have catastrophic consequences if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged. They remind us that the lessons of the Holocaust must be learnt, and learnt over and over again.
Let me conclude by quoting the words of my own Prime Minister – Gordon Brown – at a Holocaust Memorial event earlier this week, He said that Holocaust Memorial Day is about ensuring ‘that "never again" is no longer a slogan, but instead a reality’