Twenty-eighth Special Session
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
GENERAL ASSEMBLY MARKS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF LIBERATION OF NAZI DEATH CAMPS
Over 40 Speakers Address Day-Long Special Session,
Saying Holocaust Represented Break with Civilization Itself
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel wondered at “the shameful indifference that surrounded the dark factories of death”, and told the special session of the General Assembly marking the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps that, in those grim days, the victims were not only tortured and murdered by the enemy, but also by the world’s silence.
As a young adolescent, Mr. Wiesel said he had seen what no human being should have to see -- the triumph of political fanaticism and ideological hatred for those who were different. He saw multitudes of human beings, overwhelmingly Jews, humiliated, isolated, tormented, tortured, and murdered. The perpetrators were not vulgar, underworld thugs, but men with high positions in government, academia, industry and medicine. Germany had become a true democracy, but the question remained: what motivated so many brilliant and committed public servants to invent such horrors, by their scope and magnitude, by their sheer weight and number?
The scene in the Bergen-Belsen camp when the first of the Allied Forces had arrived was unimaginable, Brian Urquhart, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and veteran of the Second World War’s Allied Forces, said. The Bergen camp, like the others, had been designed to carry out the deliberate murder and desecration of millions of human souls in the name of a perverted and lunatic ideology. “The dead and dying were everywhere”, he said, painting an appalling picture of a place overrun by diseases, with two walls of a so-called children’s playground piled high with dead, decaying bodies. At least three times since, the United Nations and the world had failed to halt genocide. “Never again” was the victims’ plea.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the survivors and dignitaries at today’s high-level gathering, the first of its kind and prompted by requests from some 30 Member States last month that “such an evil must never be allowed to happen again”. The camps were not mere “concentration camps”; their purpose was to exterminate an entire people. There were other victims, too –- the Roma, or gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, Soviet war prisoners, and mentally or physically handicapped people, but the tragedy of the Jews was unique. Two thirds of all Europe’s Jews, including one-and-one-half million children, were murdered.
An entire civilization, which had contributed far beyond its numbers to the cultural and intellectual riches of Europe and the world, was uprooted, destroyed, laid waste, he said. The purveyors of hatred were not always, and might not be in the future, only marginalized extremists. He cautioned the world to be on the watch for a revival of anti-Semitism, and to be ready to act against the new forms happening today. “We must be vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they may appear”, he said.
Calling today’s session historic because it marked the very first time that the General Assembly commemorated the liberation of those “odious death camps”, Jean Ping (Gabon), elected President by acclamation of the twenty-eighth special session, said the meeting was also symbolic because the international community could finally, together, acknowledge the tragedy of the Holocaust and express its firm will to condemn to eternal failure such tyranny and barbaric behaviour wherever it was displayed. The special session was an opportunity to state loud and clear “never again”, and to reaffirm dedication to the United Nations Charter.
In the statements that followed, speakers, including several foreign ministers, reviled the Nazi regime, which they said had built a cruel and implacable system of repression. The Holocaust represented a “break with civilization itself”, as the Nazi regime had committed crimes against humanity on a scale unprecedented in human history. Speakers from all regions of the world stressed that never again should another Holocaust happen.
Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Joschka Fischer, said the name “Auschwitz” stood for the twentieth century’s ultimate crime against humanity. The Soviet troops that reached the camp thwarted the Nazis’ attempts to conceal their crimes against humanity from the world. Nevertheless, the camp’s liberation had not been an occasion for celebration –- neither for the prisoners nor their rescuers -- because it had come too late for almost all those that had been deported there, for Soviet soldiers found only 7,000 survivors. Millions had fallen victim to the monstrous mass murder planned by the Nazis.
In Auschwitz, as well as in Sobibor, Treblinka and other camps, it had been at German command and at German hands that countless Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped, dissidents and others, had been brutally tortured and murdered, he said. Germany’s racist ideology had also led it to a heinous war against Poland and the Soviet Union, causing untold suffering. “Today, we bow our heads in deep mourning”, he said. The barbaric crimes and “racial insanity” that drove the Nazi regime would forever be a part of German history. It signified the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized without precedent. The new, democratic Germany had drawn its own conclusions, and the historic and moral responsibility for Auschwitz had left an indelible mark on all Germans.
Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Silvan Shalom, said that for 6 million Jews, the State of Israel had come too late, and the United Nations had come too late. It was not too late, however, to combat intolerance, reject moral equivalence, and call evil by its name. It would never be known whether, if the United Nations had existed, the Holocaust could have been prevented, but today’s session confirmed the need for the United Nations, as well as each individual MemberState, to rededicate itself to ensuring that it would never happen again. As the number of survivors continued to shrink, the world was on the brink of that moment when that terrible event would change from memory to history. “Let all of us gathered here pledge never to forget the victims, never to abandon the survivors, and never to allow such an event ever to be repeated.”
Statements were also made at high levels of government by the representatives of Poland, Russian Federation, United States, Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union), Italy, France, Canada, Armenia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands.
Representatives from the following governments also spoke: Guinea, on behalf of the African Group; Afghanistan, on behalf of the Asian Group; Bulgaria, on behalf of the Eastern European Group; Honduras, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; Portugal, on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States; China; Jordan; Tajikistan; Panama; Belarus; Gabon; United Republic of Tanzania; Republic of Korea; Brazil; Japan; Romania; Argentina; Benin; Rwanda; Turkey; Australia; Venezuela; Kenya; and New Zealand.
The Observer for the Holy See also spoke in today’s meeting.
The General Assembly held a special session today to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. The idea for the session was generated by some 30 Member States in letters addressed to the Secretary-General last month. Permanent missions had stressed the importance for the United Nations, which “rose out of the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust”, to mark that important occasion in a manner befitting its historical importance.
Opening Statement by President of Twenty-Eighth Special Session
JEAN PING (Gabon), elected President by acclamation of the General Assembly’s twenty-eighth special session, said that 60 years ago the world -- terrified and horrified -- discovered the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Today’s meeting to commemorate the liberation of those odious death camps, where millions of human beings -- Jews and other innocent people -- were despicably murdered because of their ethnic origins, religious beliefs, ideas or political commitments. The Assembly welcomed the holding today of a special session, which was both historic and symbolic. It was historic because it marked the very first time that the General Assembly was holding a special session to commemorate the event. It was symbolic because, through the session, the international community could finally, together, “exorcise the tragedy of the Holocaust and, by so doing, express its firm will to condemn to eternal failure tyranny and barbaric behaviour wherever that was displayed”.
He also paid solemn tribute to the Holocaust survivors, who were the valued witnesses to those “bleak pages of history”, to which not all lessons had been properly learned. They not only had witnessed the acts of genocide, but were “a living symbol of the foundation of the United Nations built on the ashes of horror and tyranny to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Their presence today was an honour in many different ways. There could be no more timely moment to hold the session than at a time when the Organization was embarking on an intensive reform process, designed to better prepare it to cope with the plethora of challenges and threats to collective security confronting the world today. There was a moral obligation to act unconditionally to preserve what had been called the “duty of memory” regarding one of the most appalling crimes in the history of mankind. That duty must also carry forward to the future.
Today’s session provided an opportunity, once again, to state loud and clear “never again”, and to reaffirm the dedication to the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter, he said. Today’s world and consciences must never again put up with the arbitrary will, which indiscriminately snuffed out lives because of their differences. The world was richer because of their differences. The right to life was the universal value on which our humanity was based.
Statement by Secretary-General
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, although today had been chosen for a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz, there had been many other camps that had fallen one by one to the Allied Forces in the spring of 1945. Only gradually did the world come to know the full dimensions of the evil that those camps had contained. The discovery had been fresh in the minds of the delegates at San Francisco, when the United Nations had been founded. Indeed, the Organization must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission. That response was enshrined in the Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“The camps were not mere ‘concentration camps’”, he said, “let us not use the euphemism of those who built them.” Their purpose was not to concentrate a group in one place to keep an eye on them -- it was to exterminate an entire people. There were other victims, too, he said; the Roma, or Gypsies, were treated with the same utter disregard for their humanity as Jews. Nearly a quarter of the 1 million Roma living in Europe had been killed. Poles, Slavs, Soviet prisoners of war, and mentally or physically handicapped people likewise had been massacred in cold blood. “Groups as disparate as Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals, as well as political opponents and many writers and artists, were treated with appalling brutality. To all these we owe respect, which we can show by making special efforts to protect all communities that are similarly threatened and vulnerable, now and in the future.”
But the tragedy of the Jewish people was unique, he continued, adding that two thirds of all Europe’s Jews, including 1 million children, had been murdered. An entire civilization, which had contributed far beyond its numbers, had been uprooted and destroyed. The Holocaust came as the climax of a long, disgraceful history of anti-Semitic persecution, pogroms, institutionalized discrimination and other degradation. “The purveyors of hatred were not always, and may not be in the future, only marginalized extremists”, said Mr. Annan, adding that it had been truly said that “all that was needed for evil to triumph was that good men do nothing”. And while there had been good men and women, such as Oskar Schindler and Gertrude Luckner and Raoul Wallenberg, there had not been nearly enough.
“Such an evil must never be allowed to happen again. We must be on the watch for any revival of anti-Semitism, and ready to act against the new forms of it that are appearing today”, he said. That obligation bound everyone not only to the Jewish people, but to all others that had been, or may be, threatened with a similar fate. “We must be vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they appear.” On occasions such as this, rhetoric came easily. And while it was right to say “never again”, action was much harder. Since the Holocaust, the world, to its shame, had failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide -– in Cambodia, in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Further, while horrific examples of inhumanity around the world were evident, to decide which deserved priority, or precisely what action would be effective in protecting victims and giving them a secure future, was not so simple. And while deciding exactly what and when to act was difficult, “What we must not do is deny what is happening, or remain indifferent, as so many did when the Nazi factories of death were doing their ghastly work”, he said. Terrible things were happening today in Darfur, and tomorrow he was expecting the report of an international inquiry that would determine whether or not acts of genocide were occurring there. No less important, that report would also identify the gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, which had undoubtedly occurred.
With that report, the Security Council would then have to decide what action to take, with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators were held accountable. It was a very solemn responsibility. But today was a day to honour the victims of the Holocaust, to whom, sadly, no reparation could ever be made in this world. It was a day to honour the founders of the United Nations, the allied nations whose troops had fought and died to defeat Nazism. It was also a day to honour the people who risked, and sometimes sacrificed their lives to save fellow human beings.
It was also a day to honour the survivors, who heroically thwarted the designs of their oppressors, bringing to the world and the Jewish people a message of hope. As time passed, their numbers dwindled, so it fell to the successor generations to lift high the torch of remembrance. Above all it was a day to remember not only the victims of the horrors, whom the world abandoned, but also the potential victims of present and future ones. “A day to look them in the eye and say: ‘you, at least, we must not fail’”, he said.
ELIE WIESEL, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, had been witness to a crime committed in the heart of Euro-Christendom and civilization by a brutal dictatorial regime, a crime of unprecedented cruelty in which all segments of government had participated. Indeed, today’s session was extraordinary -- he imagined everyone knew what it would have meant to the survivors in those years to realize that the world listened. In those times, those who were there felt not only tortured and murdered by the enemy but also tortured and murdered by what they considered to be the world’s silence and indifference. Now, 60 years later, the world at least tried to listen and remember.
He said that, when speaking of that era of darkness, the witness encountered difficulties. His words became obstacles rather than vehicles. He wrote, not with words, but against words. For there were no words to describe what the victims felt when death was the norm and life was a miracle. As a young adolescent, he had seen what no human being should have to see -- the triumph of political fanaticism and ideological hatred for those who were different. He saw multitudes of human beings humiliated, isolated, tormented, tortured, and murdered. They were overwhelmingly Jews, and there were others. Those who committed the crimes were not vulgar, underworld thugs, but men with high positions in government, academia, industry and medicine in Germany.
In recent years, Germany had become a true democracy, but the question remained: in those dark years, what motivated so many brilliant and committed public servants to invent such horrors, by their scope and magnitude, by their sheer weight and number? he asked. So much humiliation, agony and pain, in spite of being the most documented tragedy in the annals of history -- Auschwitz still defied language and understanding. Babies were used as target practice, adolescents were condemned to death and parents watched children thrown into burning pits. Immense solitude engulfed an entire people, with despair haunting their days and their dreams, even 60 years later. He was not sure when the Holocaust actually began, or where it began. He still asked, “What was Auschwitz?” –- an experiment of madness that had the world as its creator, an end or a beginning of a centuries-old apocalypse, or a demonic convulsion of the forces in human creation?
Inside that world, there were no children and there were no grandparents -– they had already perished, he said. As the Secretary-General had said, not all victims were Jewish, but all Jews were victims. For the first time in recorded history, birth became a death sentence; Jews were condemned to die even before they were born. The enemy sought to put an end to Jewish history. It wanted a new world, implacably, irrevocably devoid of Jews -- hence, Auschwitz, Treblinka and the others -- dark factories of death, built to create death, and erected for the final solution. Killers came to kill, and victims came to die. One-and-one-half million children perished. Who among them might have been future Nobel Prize winners, or invented a remedy for cancer and other horrible diseases? Who among them could have moved nations to give up organized violence and war?
He said that Auschwitz was a kingdom of absolute evil, a place where to lose a piece of bread meant losing life, and where a smile from a friend meant another day of promise. How was that calculated evil possible? Had creation gone mad? Had God covered his face? What was that shameful indifference? Why so late now? He urged the entire community to listen to the words of the witnesses. If the world had listened, it might have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. For the dead, it was too late. But, it was not too late for today’s children. It was for their sake alone that he bore witness, that the world was duty-bound to denounce anti-Semitism and racism.
Those who today preached and practiced the cult of death -- suicide terrorism, the scourge of the new terrorism -- must be tried for their crimes against humanity, he said. “The past is the present, but the future is still in our hands, yours as well as mine”, he said. Those who survived Auschwitz advocated hope, not despair, generosity and not rancour or bitterness, and gratitude, not violence. The world must be engaged, and it must reject indifference as an option, as that always helped the aggressor and not his victims. Would the world ever learn? he wondered.
BRIAN URQUHART, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, and veteran of the Second World War Allied Forces, said today marked the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz -- by far not the only, but by far the worst of all the Nazi concentration camps. The Assembly’s special session was a recognition of one of the most horrific and unimaginable crimes in European and world history. He said he had been among the first of the Allied Forces to arrive in the Bergen-Belsen camp, which had been set up late in the war to take in survivors of camps that the enemy believed might have been overrun by the Soviet Army.
The scene in the camp was indeed unimaginable, he said, asking: “For who could imagine such horrors?” The inhuman conditions of the starving, broken and traumatized prisoners had to be seen to be believed. The Bergen camp, like others, was a mechanism designed to carry out the deliberate murder and desecration of millions of human souls all in the name of a perverted and lunatic ideology. “The dead and dying were everywhere”, he said, painting an appalling picture of a place overrun by diseases, with two walls of a so-called children’s playground piled high with dead, decaying bodies.
As the shocking details of the camps began to be revealed, it also became clear that such treatment demanded that the world elaborate and implement a powerful and comprehensive defence to overcome man’s inhumanity to man. Such a defence had subsequently been largely crafted by Eleanor Roosevelt, then First Lady of the United States, and adopted by the General Assembly as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But sadly, after 60 years, a standard to promote, protect and ensure those most fundamental of rights, in every part of the world, remained elusive. At least three times the United Nations and the world had failed to halt genocide. And indeed, atrocities were very likely being committed in Darfur, Sudan, today. The world must come together and act, building on its shared history, which had clearly shown that people must be delivered from hatred, fear and the oppression of perverted ideologies. The call that humanity should hear today was a plea from beyond the grave of “never again”, he said.
General Debate Statements
SILVAN SHALOM, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel, said he mourned the losses every day. Every fibre of his people felt the victims’ absence. Every family knew the pain, including his own. Israel and the Jewish people owed a debt to the liberators of the death camps, and so did all of humankind. In the face of unspeakable evil, those liberators, from many nations represented here today, showed the human capacity for good. In the face of overwhelming indifference to the suffering of others, they showed compassion, and in the face of cowardice, they showed bravery and resolve. Ultimately, the tragedy of the Holocaust was a major impetus in the re-establishment of the Jewish people’s home, in its ancient land. Indeed, since its establishment, Israel had provided a haven for Jews facing persecution anywhere in the world.
At the same time, he said his country had built a society based on the values of democracy and freedom for all of its citizens, where Jewish life, culture, literature, religion and learning –- all of those things which the Nazis sought to destroy –- could flourish. If Israel represented one heroic attempt to find a positive response to the atrocities of the Second World War, then the United Nations represented another. By convening the special session, the world honoured the victims, paid respect to the survivors and tribute to the liberators. “We convene here today for those who remember, for those who have forgotten, and for those who do not know”, he said. But, the session would also remember the United Nations Charter, which, like Israel’s Declaration of Independence, was written in the blood of the victims of the Holocaust.
He said that the past decade had witnessed a chilling increase in attempts to deny the very fact of the Holocaust. Unbelievable as it seemed, there were those who would delete from history 6 million murders. Worse than systematically destroying a people was to deny it, to take from the victims and their children and grandchildren the legitimacy of their grief. To deny the Holocaust was not only to desecrate the victims and abuse the survivors, but also to deprive the world of its lessons –- lessons that were as crucial today as they were 60 years ago. Today, once again, the plague of anti-Semitism was raising its head. Who could have imagined that less than 60 years after Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the Jewish people and Israel would be the targets of anti-Semitic attacks, even in the countries that had witnessed the Nazi atrocities? Yet, that was exactly what was happening. While Jews might be the first to have suffered from anti-Semitic destructive hate, they had rarely been the last.
Once again, the world was witnessing the same process of delegitimization and dehumanization of the Jews and other minorities, he said. It should not be forgotten that the brutal extermination of a people had begun, not with guns or tanks, but with words, systematically portraying the Jew –- the other -– as less legitimate, less than human. That should not be forgotten when current newspapers and schoolbooks borrowed caricatures and themes from the Nazi paper “Der Sturmer” to portray Jews and Israelis. The lessons of the Holocaust were also critical today because, once again, the world was witnessing a violent assault on the fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life. No ideology and no political agenda could justify or excuse the deliberate taking of an innocent life.
For 6 million Jews, the State of Israel had come too late. For them, and for countless others, the United Nations also had come too late, he said. But, it was not too late to renew the commitment to the purposes for which the United Nations was founded. And, it was not too late to work for an international community that fully reflected those values. “That will be uncompromising in combating intolerance against people of all faiths and ethnicities. That will reject moral equivalence. That will call evil by its name”, he said. It would never be known whether, if the United Nations had existed then, the Holocaust could have been prevented, but the special session today confirmed the need for the United Nations, as well as each individual MemberState, to rededicate itself to ensuring that it would never happen again. As the number of survivors continued to shrink, the world was on the brink of that moment when that terrible event would change from memory to history. “Let all of us gathered here pledge never to forget the victims, never to abandon the survivors, and never to allow such an event ever to be repeated”, he urged upon closing.
BRONISŁAW GEREMEK, Special Representative of the President of Poland, said his country had lost a large part of its spiritual and political elite in Nazi concentration camps, along with some 3 million –- or 90 per cent -– of its Jewish citizens. It was in occupied Poland that Hitler’s Germany located Auschwitz, its largest concentration camp. Nazi Germany chose Poland as the place of the massacre of European Jews for two interconnected reasons. First, most of the Jews doomed to death in their totality lived in Central and Eastern Europe. Second, the perpetrators hoped to conceal their crime from the world by committing it far from Western Europe.
Poland was aware of its special role, stemming from the fact that it had in its care all those places of remembrance of the greatest crime of the Second Millennium, he said. It would spare no effort to ensure lasting preservation of the remnants of the concentration camps and extermination centres, located in Poland by the German occupiers, to turn them into places open to the world, where historic reflection and education would take place in a spirit of democracy and tolerance. “It is our duty to preserve the memory of what happened, but also to shape the awareness of the young generations in a spirit of tolerance, respect for human rights and sensitivity to any manifestations of discrimination.” That goal could be implemented through educational programmes, such as those envisaged at the Center of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust and through the Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, which would study contemporary acts of genocide.
VLADIMIR LUKIN, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, said that today’s historic meeting was a commemoration of the day Allied Forces led by Russian troops, liberated one of the most monstrous death camps that had been created under the Nazi regime. Those tortured there included Jews and gypsies, as well as citizens of 17 countries from around the world. That barbaric and systematic extermination of a people had served as a symbol that had sparked the global fight against oppression and racism. Indeed, the War had forced all mankind to close ranks against Nazi enslavement, setting aside all differences of views and opinions. The victory had been a joint victory for the solidarity of the international community and had led, importantly, to the creation of the United Nations. The peoples of the world had realized that there was no alternative to a vision of collective security, which had been subsequently enshrined in the Charter, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Russia, which had suffered under the ruthlessness and lawlessness of communist dictatorship, would never forget those principles, he said. It was the duty of all humankind to honour the memory of the survivors of the Second World War by uniting with determination to exclude the possibility of another world war, or any conflict, recognizing the central role of the United Nations. It was equally important to prevent attempts -– which were becoming frighteningly more frequent -– to rewrite history. He noted that in many countries, there were those who would make heroes of the Nazis and their ilk. These people, too, should be seen as enemies of humanity. The rise of meetings and conventions advocating State recognition for the henchman of Nazism contravened the historic outcome of the Nuremburg trials and insulted those that had perished during the War, he said.
He called upon all countries to join and implement all relevant international human rights treaties and covenants against all modern forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. He also called on all nations to do their utmost to protect cultural and religious sites and other symbols of the struggle against of oppression. Indeed, saving such symbols from attempts to destroy them by extremists continued to be a highly relevant objective. Failing to protect such monuments amounted to a failure of all those that had suffered. In addition, widespread racism and anti-Semitism among young radical factions was troubling. Courts in the Russian Federation had handed down harsh sentences to perpetrators of such acts.
All extremist activities must be confronted by the joint efforts of the international community, he said. He noted that today’s special session was one in a chain of solemn events over the coming months that would mark the great victory over fascism. The Assembly and the world, on 8 and 9 May, would hold days of reflection and remembrance in tribute to all victims of the Second World War. Finally, he said that “everything that we know must lead us to enhance the universal nature of the United Nations”, and strengthen its peacekeeping and anti-terrorism mechanisms towards the creation of a more just and safer world order based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that atrocities such as those recounted and solemnly remembered today would never be recreated in any corner of the globe.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States, recalled that Mr. Wiesel had taught that, in extreme situations, neutrality was a sin that helped the killers and hurt the victims. He taught about the need to speak about unspeakable deeds, so that they would never be forgotten or repeated. Above all, he offered personal witness that, in the fact of that most horrific oppression, there was always hope that the goodness of the human spirit would prevail. The world was here today to reflect on the magnitude of that occasion, when totalitarian evil claimed millions of precious lives. Just as important, the Member States here today were affirming their rejection of such evil and expressing hope that the world would never again look the other way.
He said it took a most terrible war to end those horrors, a war that Winston Churchill called unnecessary because he believed that a firm and concerted policy by peaceful nations could have stopped Hitler early on. Churchill had said, however, that the war had become necessary “to save the world from the abyss of a new dark age made by the sinister light of a perverted science”. War, even a just and noble war, was horrible for everyone it touched. War was not something that Americans sought or something they had grown to like. Throughout history, it had been waged reluctantly, but waged out of duty. Americans had fought often to liberate others from slavery and tyranny, in order to protect their own freedom. When Americans took up arms, it was in the belief that, in the end, it was never about them alone, but about knowing that woven into Americans’ liberty was a mantle of responsibility. The whole world benefited when people were free to realize their dreams and develop their talents.
In places where human slaughter had been perfected as an efficient and systematic industry of State, one could only imagine how different our lives would have been had those millions of lost souls had a chance to live out their dreams, he said. He paid tribute to all of the Allied soldiers who liberated the Nazi death camps, for their courage and sacrifice and for the care they provided the survivors. He was proud of the American soldiers, so-called “old young men” who fought through their own horrors and who thought that a world of evil held no more surprises for them –- until they were surprised to the depths of their souls at the human tyranny of the camps. As the 42nd Infantry Division neared the main gate of Dachau, they were greeted by a mass of cheering half-made men, women and children; “our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness falling from their cheeks”, one soldier wrote. Indeed, American soldiers became reluctant archaeologists concerning the shallow graves and instruments of torture used by the “SS”.
He said it had been difficult to separate the living from the dead, but beyond the shock and the horror, American and Russian and other Allied soldiers who liberated the camps had also been witnesses to hope. A great Polish patriot who had died last week had told Mr. Wolfowitz just three months ago that there was no mention of what he had witnessed in Poland’s records of Poland’s Jews because that was a “wartime inconvenience”. Jan Novak, who was not Jewish, had risked his life bringing news of the camps to the West. He was telling truth that people did not want to know, and despite fervent promises never to forget, there had been far too many instances in the six decades when the world, once again, had ignored inconvenient truths so that it would not have to act, or it acted too late.
JEAN ASSELBORN, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that there were some places and events that were never lost in history; they would always remain present in the minds of men. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka and other death camps were such emblematic places that would never go away; they remained “an ever-open wound in the moral conscience of humanity”. It was in the Nazi death factories, where the intentional, planned and organized extermination of millions of human beings was carried out. In those camps, the experience of humiliation and the negation of humanity found its most absolute expression.
The memory of the victims, he said, demanded that the international community seek to understand the sequence of causes and effects, the horrific reasoning that led millions of human beings to a death that, 60 years on, remained incomprehensible. “Because only this work on the historical facts can enable us to draw moral and political lessons from this concentration camp hell, so that it never happens again.” The duty of memory also bestowed an obligation to educate, particularly the young generations. That was not just a moral obligation, but also a civic duty of the highest order. It was especially fitting, he added, that the commemoration was being held inside the very walls of the United Nations, an organization born out of the agony of war, which, in the preamble of its Charter, mentioned “the untold sorrow” inflicted on humanity.
MARCELLO PERA, Speaker of the Senate of Italy, said that the international community was faced with many obligations. It had an obligation to tell the truth. The Holocaust was not the product of imagination or propaganda or rhetoric; it was a tragic, unique fact of history. Those who denied it, underestimated it or tried to revise it were simply committing another crime. There was also an obligation to remember and pay respect to the memory of the millions of human beings that were gassed, tortured, starved, and forced to die in the most humiliating ways. There was an obligation to understand how it was possible that Europe, at the peak of its civilization, could commit such a crime. How could Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, collaborationist France, and others, become responsible –- in different ways and to different extents -– for such immense massacres?
The international community also had an obligation to commit itself to the fundamental dignity of the person -– any human person; to teach, spread, defend and sanction the principles of freedom, tolerance, respect and solidarity, which were the best antidotes to any sort of discrimination; to fight for those rules and ideals of liberty and democracy and to fight against those who denied them; and to admit that anti-Semitism still remained. Much had been done in Italy, which had passed bills against anti-Semitism and racism, had taken resolutions in Parliament, and had, had a national Shoah commemoration day, observed every year. But more needed to be done because the challenge was serious and the stakes were high.
JOSCHKA FISCHER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, said the name “Auschwitz” today stood for the twentieth century’s ultimate crime against humanity. Some 60 years ago today, German SS henchman in Auschwitz were furiously trying to remove all traces of the millions of people they had murdered: the files were being burned; the gas chambers were being destroyed; and the incinerators were being dismantled. Countless exhausted prisoners were rounded up for a death march westward that many were not to survive. The Soviet troops that reached Auschwitz thwarted the Nazi’s attempts to conceal this crime against humanity from the world. Nevertheless, the camp’s liberation had not been an occasion for celebration -- neither for the prisoners nor their rescuers -- because it had come too late for almost all those that had been deported there, for Soviet soldiers found only 7,000 survivors.
Millions had fallen victim to the monstrous mass murder planned by the Nazis, he said. In Auschwitz, as well as in Sobibor, Treblinka and other camps, it had been at German command and at German hands that countless Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped, dissidents and others, had been brutally tortured and murdered. Germany’s racist ideology had also led it to a heinous war against Poland and the Soviet Union, causing untold suffering. “Today, we bow our heads in deep mourning”, he said. The barbaric crimes and “racial insanity” that had driven the Nazi regime would forever be a part of German history. It signified the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized without precedent. The new, democratic Germany had drawn its conclusions, and the historic and moral responsibility for Auschwitz had left an indelible mark on all Germans.
This year marked the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel, he said. The fact that Israel saw Germany as a reliable partner today was by no means taken for granted, and Germany’s past made it duty-bound to banish and combat all forms of anti-Semitism, but also racism, xenophobia and intolerance. “We must not sit idly by while people are insulted, attacked or injured because of their faith”, he said, adding: “We must not turn a blind eye while synagogues are vandalized or defiled. And we must not remain silent in the face of pernicious anti-Semitic propaganda.”
“Precisely because genocide never happens entirely without warning, we have to work on combating its harbingers”, he said, urging States to resolutely counter war, civil war and human rights abuses, as well as totalitarian thinking, hate propaganda and the glorification of violence. “This is our duty”, he added. To accomplish it would take effective multilateral cooperation, and the United Nations was squarely suited for genocide prevention. He was convinced that no other organization had so much experience in conflict prevention and the promotion and protection of human rights. Further strengthening the world body in those fields had become a priority for Germany. And the very fact that such atrocities as those committed at Auschwitz could occur at the hands of Germans in the heart of Europe must be a constant reminder that an enlightened, tolerant and open society should not be taken for granted. “We have to work every day to ensure that it remains vibrant”, he said, “the memory of those who suffered and the pain of the survivors of the Nationalist Socialist extermination camps commit us to this shared goal.”
MICHEL BARNIER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, said that the Nazi enterprise had sought the negation of humanity. The “inferior race” was destined to vanish and Jews, above all, had crystallized the obsession with extermination. To the horror of systematized barbarity, the Nazis added genocide to the “final solution”. As well as ending the most extreme suffering, the liberation of the camps had restored to the deportees their identity and their dignity as human beings. The United Nations was born of a war unlike all others in its geographical scope, its terrifying toll of 55 million lives, mostly civilians, but also in the unique character of its genocide. The nations that united against that barbarity had won the final victory. By creating an international organization founded on law, they pledged to spare the world from another cataclysm.
Despite the realization of many hopes in the past 60 years, he wondered how many promises had been broken around the world and how many civilians had been slaughtered or had their rights trampled. Today’s commemoration should serve to remind everyone of the pledge that each State made upon joining the Organization. France, along with all of its European partners, vigorously supported the holding of the special session, for the liberation of the camps was the liberation of all humankind. Mankind must remain vigilant. “Let us never forget. When the first signs of persecution of the Jews announcing the Shoah occurred, how many stood up? How many spoke out? The duty to remember unites us today. It compels us to vigilance. It commits us to action”, he said.
PIERRE PETTIGREW, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said everyone was here today to give resonance and strength to the notion that that dark chapter in history must always be remembered. It was that chapter in the world’s collective history that must never be repeated. The liberation of Auschwitz had marked the beginning of the end of the Holocaust, but it did not mark the end of the evil that had spawned it. Today, even in societies like Canada, the world was facing new threats of hatred, which challenged the world’s values. More than ever, the common values of inclusion must be affirmed, and all forms of hatred must be rejected. The cold-blooded systematic murder of millions of people, an overwhelming majority of them Jews, had happened because of indifference, which was the breeding ground for fear and intolerance.
He recalled the words of Reverend Martin Niemoller, a German pastor who had, at first, championed the Nazi cause, but who had been imprisoned at Dachau for turning against them. The Reverend had said, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me”. It was the human ability to recognize evil and to battle indifference in the face of hatred that required the greatest courage and the greatest insight. Sad to say, as a civilization, “we continue to fail on both accounts”, he said.
Since the liberation of Auschwitz, the world had witnessed much brutality -– in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Darfur, he said, adding that “the list of those damned by indifference goes on”. Collective security demanded collective responsibility. There could be no indifference to crimes of hate. States must protect their populations, and rejecting indifference was at the foundation of that principle. That was also the founding principle of the United Nations. In order to change the course of history, the world must fight the human tendency to allow evil to simply happen when it happened to someone else. That could be accomplished only by working together and “breaking the bonds of our own indifference”. The Holocaust reminded the world that there could be no indifference to intolerance, and no respect for evil. In anticipation of the Organization’s sixtieth anniversary, the world should rededicate itself to the causes of understanding, respect and compassion -– “for each of us who sits in this Assembly can -– and must -– find common ground with the other”, he said.
VARTAN OSKANIAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said that, as a descendent of genocide survivors, he had been compelled to take part in today’s commemoration and to urge all nations to confront genocide anywhere in the world, regardless of the costs or political discomfort taking such a stand might cause. Indeed, the very word “Auschwitz” should cause everyone to look back on the singularity of the horrors perpetrated there, and solemnly vow that they never occurred again. Just as after the 11 September terrorist attacks, the horror of so many dead had caused some politicians to remark that “We are all Americans”, he said memories of the Holocaust should evoke a similar refrain: “We are all Jews.”
Indeed, Jews, Gypsies, and others had been persecuted by the Nazis, but “we are all ‘unfit’ or ‘deviant’ to someone, somewhere”, he said. After Auschwitz, mankind’s conscience could not remain the same. All victims of genocide, regardless of race or religion, had their own names for places of infamy, horror and slaughter. For Cambodians in was the “killing fields”. For children of the twenty-first century, it was Darfur. Nevertheless, only when those that had played a part in wrongdoing had come forward could the requisite political will be achieved to right those wrongs. That was not an idealistic view to be dismissed, he said. Genocide had nothing to do with individuals committing crimes -- it was the act of a State, which by its very function was to act with organization and structure. So his was not a plea to reform human beings, but a call to reform national institutions to ensure that no perpetrator enjoyed impunity.
His experience, as an Armenian, had been that the blind eye, the deaf ear and the muted tongue only perpetuated the wounds, he said. The world had not spoken and needed to do so. The catharsis that victims deserved and that society needed to heal and move forward obligated the international community and the United Nations to call things by their names and to “remove the barriers of double standards and political expediency. He remarked that, while the global community had acted swiftly and without discrimination in response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, it had been unable to move beyond general condemnation of the tragedy occurring in Darfur. Nothing had been done to pursue the perpetrators, who, in this and any such case, must be named and shamed and then brought to justice.
As efforts to confront genocide and human rights abuses had met with varying degrees of concern, there was no better occasion than today to ask: “If not here and now then where and when?” he said, recalling that the fate of the destruction of his own people had been intertwined with that of the Jews. He said that genocide was a manifestation of a government’s broken covenant with its people, and it was here that third parties could play such an important role. Indeed, Arabs had provided sanctuary for Armenian deportees some 20 years ago. The role of third parties needed to be recognized. But at the same time, the parties must reconcile their differences.
ILINKA MITREVA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that commemorating the Holocaust victims entailed a moral obligation to prevent such horrors from ever happening again. Her own country, with its historically multi-ethnic society, had suffered enormous loss through the almost complete eradication of its Jewish population in the death camps during the Second World War. Although Macedonians had done everything in their power to protect Jewish neighbours, sometimes at the expense of their own lives, in 1943, 7,200 people, or 98 per cent of Macedonian Jews, had been deported by the occupying Nazi forces to the Treblinka camp and murdered. Macedonia remembered its Holocaust victims. As one remembrance, it was opening a memorial centre whose construction was set to start this year. Every 11March, Macedonia commemorated the day when the Macedonian Jews looked back at their homeland for the last time aboard “death trains”. The question of what lessons could be drawn must continually be asked.
She said the world was committed to practicing tolerance and mutual understanding. Unfortunately, however, there were still sad examples of new forms of genocide, to which the international community had not responded in a timely manner. It had established courts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the atrocities, but she wondered whether that was really enough. Today’s special session should not only be a time to commemorate and reflect, but to give more impetus to streamlining United Nations’ mechanisms for exercising responsible multilateralism, to react quickly, efficiently and appropriately to all future cases of genocide and massive human rights violations. The commemoration must encourage everyone to reaffirm their strong commitment to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Lord JANNER BRAUNSTONE, Queen’s Counsel, United Kingdom, said the Nazis had murdered his entire family in Lithuania and Latvia. His immediate family had been fortunate to have been living in Britain. He had been a national serviceman and had been witness to the Nazi killing machine. With that first-hand experience, he could attest to the fact that all people, whatever their nationality, must do everything to see that the next generation learned the lessons of the Holocaust and did everything in its power to fight genocide wherever and whenever it appeared. And while those that were murdered in the camps would rightly be honoured today, the world’s nations should also pay tribute to the many who had been killed in towns, villages, homes and places of worship. The world must see that such events never occurred again by ensuring that all the victims and their families were honourably and permanently remembered.
Tragically, the world still suffered from the evils of genocide and ethnic cleansing, he said. With that in mind, the United Kingdom supported and saluted the aims of the special session. The United Kingdom was also leading efforts to ensure that the crimes of the Holocaust were remembered and, in 1991, the British Parliament had passed a war crimes act. The history of the Holocaust and its aftermath was also being taught in school. The Government had also led the effort to map Holocaust mass graves throughout Lithuania and the eastern European region. If that had not been done, those graves would have passed into history hidden by the forests that were now growing over those hallowed sites. He urged the Assembly not to forget the lessons of the Nazi concentration camps, and not to forget the tragic fate of the millions that had died at the blood-soaked hands of the Nazis.
OLAV KJØRVEN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said it was important to remember, reflect on and learn from what happened 60 years ago. In Norway, as in other countries, the aim of the occupying Nazi regime was to completely destroy the Jewish community. Very few of those who were arrested and deported ever returned, and a community and a cultural heritage was lost. “We need to look at ourselves –- at the racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism in our own countries. We need to look at our educational systems and make new generations aware of what happened in the past so as to prevent it from happening in the future.” The Declaration on the Holocaust, adopted by the Stockholm International Forum in 2000, was a milestone in that it committed countries to promoting education about the Holocaust in their schools and communities, and to create awareness in society as a whole.
In Norway, it had become increasingly common for Norwegian school classes to visit former extermination and concentration camps in Germany and Poland, he said. In 2001, the Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway was established as a national institution in the field of Holocaust research, documentation, information and education. The Centre was part of the restitution by the Norwegian Government for the economic losses and the suffering of the Norwegian Jews during the Second World War. In addition, the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, which consisted of representatives of governments and educational and research institutions, played an important role in raising international awareness in that field.
FRANZ MORAK, State Secretary, Office of the Federal Chancellor of Austria, said he felt two emotions today –- the agony of knowing that his country had lost so many of its Jewish citizens to the Holocaust, and the pain of realizing that far too many Austrians had taken part in that greatest of all crimes. More than 65,000 Austrian Jews had been killed by the National Socialist regime. They had been deported to places of unspeakable horror, where, it must be admitted, some of their neighbours might have marched them into gas chambers, lined them up against execution pits, or starved them in ghettos. Auschwitz stood for the destruction of all human values, and for the killing of 1.35 million Jews, 20,000 Sinti and Roma, and 100,000 other inmates, persecuted by the National Socialist regime on racial and political grounds, or simply for being different. The Holocaust represented a “break with civilization itself”.
He said that Auschwitz today stood for the disastrous consequences of tyranny and contempt for the value and dignity of human life. Memorials were important, but education was a more powerful tool. Young people must be taught that no country, no society could achieve any progress or development without respect for human rights and for the dignity of the individual. That was the lesson and legacy of Auschwitz. It took Austria a long time to grasp the complexities of its own history and to understand that it was not just a victim of the Nazi regime, but that Austrians were also among the perpetrators; many had supported, or at least acquiesced, in the persecution.
The Nazi regime not only committed crimes against humanity on an unprecedented scale in the history of human civilization, but it was also responsible for the greatest organized robbery of all time, he added. His Government had started comprehensive efforts towards restitution and compensation to bring at least some measure of justice to the victims of National Socialism –- although those efforts had come late -– too late for so many.
ANDRAS BARSONY, State Secretary, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Hungary, said now was the time for the international community to pay tribute to the millions who had died in the death camps of the Holocaust in the name of a brutal and extreme ideology. Those millions had been deemed “inferior” and their dehumanization and murder had been a tragic loss for humanity. He said that some 400,000 Hungarians had died in the camps, bringing the total number of Hungarians that died during the war to some 600,000. And it was a sad truth that some number of Hungarians had participated with the Nazi architects of the Holocaust.
It was a truth that Hungary had to face every day, and the reality of it had forged elements of the country’s history since that time. Hungary had been forced to draw hard lessons from history in order to strengthen its resolve to ensure that such horrors were never committed again. After coming to terms with its own past, Hungary had resolved to combat racial and ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitism. The Government had also vowed that future generations would know the story of the Holocaust in its entirety. Hungary was willing and able to do its utmost not to allow such tragedies to occur again. Finally, he said that, while studying a family photo album at home, the empty spaces left for those that had been killed during the Holocaust had called to him to speak out on their behalf today. And even while he had been honoured to speak, he wondered, if more people had spoken out all those years ago, how many of his family members, as well as the families of so many others, would have been able to live out their lives.
MAX VAN DER STOEL, Minister of State, Special Envoy of the Netherlands, said it was almost impossible now in 2005, as it was then in 1945, to absorb the truth and the systematic cruelty of the deadly Nazi system. For many, in particular for the younger generations that did not experience the war, it might be tempting to forget. “But if we forget, similar atrocities may all too easily occur. We have already experienced, and continue to experience, systematic acts of genocide elsewhere in the world.”
Today’s commemoration, both the special session and the events surrounding it, should and would contribute to that, he continued. It was extremely important that the commemoration take place under the auspices of the United Nations, which showed that it was not only a matter of concern for the countries and people who suffered under the Nazis, but for all countries and all peoples of the world. And it showed that the United Nations and the international community had a common responsibility, as laid down in the Charter, to work towards peace and respect for human rights. No one in the world deserved any less than that.
ALPHA IBRAHIMA STOED, Minister of State, Special Envoy of Guinea, speaking on behalf of African States, said the Assembly’s first-ever commemoration of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps was a reaffirmation of the body’s respect for the Charter and its commitment to the promotion of human rights.
For its part, Africa was committed to the protection of human rights, anti-discrimination and the principle of shared responsibility. The continent would continue to draw on its own tragic history -- from outlasting the horrors of slavery and the Middle Passage, to overcoming colonialism and defeating apartheid -– to ensure that human rights and dignity were secured for all people.
But it was that troubled history that had taught Africa that words of condemnation, no matter how heartfelt, meant little without action, he said. With that in mind, African countries were implementing the relevant international instruments related to the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and to combating genocide. Africa, likewise, welcomed the Third Committees’ (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) adoption each year of a resolution on measures to be taken to combat political programmes or doctrines based on ethnic exclusivity, neo-Nazism or xenophobia.
The extermination of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust would continue to weigh heavily on the conscience of mankind. The African Group hoped that the special session would serve as a framework for more intensive thinking on ways to draw lessons from the Holocaust, as well as to address genocide, human rights abuses and racial discrimination. The session must also lead all States to reaffirm the importance of the United Nations and the principles of peace, security, development, and social and human progress, as set out in the Charter and the Millennium Declaration.
RAVAN A. G. FARHADI (Afghanistan), on behalf of the Asian Group, said that United Nations Member States, for the past 60 years, had been engaged with strong political will to initiate the adoption of several conventions and the holding of major international conferences on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide had been major milestones. The recent entry into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Court’s establishment was another major development for deterring the kinds of atrocities humanity experienced during the rise of Nazism 60 years ago.
Despite the fact that the Statute had not yet been ratified by all United Nations Members, he said that, legally and politically, its entry into force had been significant. While the General Assembly was commemorating the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, it was high time, based on the lessons learned from that tragedy, to emphasize the central role of the United Nations in ensuring a system of genuine global security and promoting human rights and general human progress, in the face of the new threats and challenges.
STEFAN TAFROV (Bulgaria), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European Group of States, said the catastrophe of the Holocaust was a vivid example of the fact that when one minority was persecuted, all minorities were threatened, and when all minorities were threatened, everybody was threatened. As the world commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, which had been made possible by the bravery and heroism of the armies of numerous States, it paid tribute to those courageous soldiers who not only had put an end to the unprecedented suffering but also had revealed to the world the atrocity of the Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps.
As the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations drew near, Member States should never forget that the Organization was founded in the aftermath of the most devastating war of the twentieth century and at a time when the tragic reality of the Holocaust and the Nazi extermination machinery had been brought to light, he said. From its inception, the United Nations had been called upon by succeeding generations never to allow such a tragedy to happen again. Thus, the founding principles and goals enshrined in its Charter committed all its members to protect human life and dignity and to ensure respect for universal human rights and freedoms as a foundation of peace, security and development.
Mr. Tafrov said he regarded the commemoration as part of an ongoing effort not to forget what had happened more than sixty years ago, adding that remembering that political, and above all moral, catastrophe of the past was the best way to fight the evils of the present. He went on to list those evils as racism and intolerance of different kinds, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism.
MANUEL ACOSTA BONILLA (Honduras), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said decades had passed since the liberation of the thousands of human beings that had been victims of a tragedy the likes of which must never occur again, and which the world and the Organization were still trying to fully understand. Genocide had long been held a crime under international law, but such crimes continued to occur.
So it was important to ensure that genocide and other crimes against humanity and international humanitarian law must be confronted with comprehensive and powerful global legal measures. To that end, the creation of an international legal system, and the fact that the International Criminal Court had been established, had been important steps towards achieving that goal. “We cannot leave such tragic and dark legacies to our children”, he said.
JOÃO SALGUEIRO (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the Group of Western European and Other States, said the Nazi camps represented one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in the history of mankind. Six million Jews -– roughly half of Europe’s Jewish population, and one third of the world’s Jewish population –- had perished at the hands of the Nazi regime, along with 5 million other victims. Today’s commemoration was not only an opportunity to pay tribute to the memory of all the victims, but to reflect on how it was possible for such an unprecedented tragedy to unfold.
The Second World War marked a turning point for humanity, he noted. The ashes of the war had led to the birth of the United Nations and to the hope of an international society built on tolerance, solidarity and common security. He called on the Assembly to once again renew its foundational vows, “in particular to reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of all men and women and of all nations large and small”.
WANG GUANGYA (China) said the Government and the people of China had profound sympathy for the suffering of the Jewish people and others in the Second World War. Sixty years ago, clouds of gun smoke had cast a pall over the entire world, as battle raged between good and evil, light and darkness. In the thick of that winter, the Nazi concentration camps had been liberated at long last, and those that had emerged had sought a new lease on life. That was an extraordinary page in the long annals of history, an end to the atrocities of fascism and a rebirth of hope. Also 60 years ago, the countries and peoples of Asia had also submitted to deeply humiliating treatment and slaughter. China alone had suffered 35 million casualties at the hands of the militaristic butchers. The Nazi concentration camps had committed innumerable atrocities, but the militarists took no second seat to them.
He said that, with the passage of time, the world had undergone profound changes. Peace had come at a heavy cost. The tragic events of 60 years ago must not be allowed to recur. Forgetting history was tantamount to betrayal. As the Secretary-General had said, we must not forget the past, but remember and reflect upon history and draw lessons from it. Yet today, the spectres of Nazism and militarism still hounded humankind with forces and organizations from the extreme right bent on distorting and denying crimes. History was mankind’s mirror and guide, and courage came with the awareness of shame. Today’s special session not only served to honour the memory of those who had died, but to remind the world, once again, that such tragedies should never again be allowed to happen. Mere good intentions were far from enough. The world was at an historical turning point, and the United Nations was at a crucial crossroads. The responsibility of ensuring mankind’s common future rested heavily on the United Nations, whose role must be enhanced and not weakened, and whose authority must be upheld and not compromised.
Prince ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan), said whatever judgement future historians assigned to the twentieth century, the sum of our scientific, technological and literary achievements would be transfigured by the Holocaust, and the wider war of aggression waged by the Nazis. So extreme were their acts, and so extreme was the suffering of so many millions, we could expect “nothing less than contempt of the future historians for how seemingly impossible it had been for humankind to be consistently humane or kind”. That was not to say that humankind was so malevolent that cynicism must trump hope. Indeed, even during the height of the Holocaust, throughout the worst of the brutalities, heroism was evident in the actions of those who had tried to save victims, often only to become victims themselves.
Nevertheless, the international community’s management of the legacy left by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg remained chequered at best, he said. Over the last 60 years, the thread of international criminal justice had led through Tokyo trials, and the ad hoc Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. And yet, in spite of important convictions and the revelations of truth that had been handed down by those war crimes bodies, “all we seem to hear, in this hall and in the Security Council, are complaints over the great expense of international criminal justice -– with the combined budgets of the two Tribunals approaching $300 million a year”, he said. When measured against the $900 billion the international community spent on weapons each year, surely a few hundred million spent on justice –- the companion of peace –- was a worthy consideration.
With that in mind, he urged those that had not done so to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. He also stressed that it was necessary to commemorate the victims of the terrible events of the Holocaust with policies fitting to their memory –- policies which did not promote or tolerate injustice. All nations must work together to set about affirming the centrality of justice in the search for lasting global peace.
RASHID ALIMOV (Tajikistan) said his own compatriots had been brutally reduced to ashes by the hateful death camps created by Hitler’s Nazi regime. The souls of millions of women and children, old men and young, today looked down on the United Nations with the hope that the time of “Hitleresque” fascism would never again occur on earth. And, never in any circumstance could that horrendous tragedy be consigned to oblivion. The bells from those camps called on the world to be vigilant; they warned against complacency and indifference to anti-Semitism and racism, and all other forms of intolerance. A central role must be played by the United Nations, which was a leader in the defence of peace, human rights and human dignity. The camps’ remains, the victims’ memories, and photos and other documentary evidence of those ghastly times must serve as a stern warning. Present and future generations must know the truth in order to prevent the recurrence of those crimes.
He expressed his profound gratitude to those courageous people who had endured the camp’s horrors and who had retained their faith in the triumph of humanism. The founding countries of the United Nations had also paid a high price for their shared victory in the war. Consolidating the historical memory was not only the duty to those who had given their lives on the altar of victory or been reduced to ashes in the camps, but a test of the world’s moral maturity. Anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia were not a thing of the past. Extremism, be that religious or political, was a real problem with far-reaching consequences, and that could be conquered only through the collective efforts of the international community, with the United Nations playing a coordinating role.
RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS (Panama) said that today’s special session provided a favourable opportunity for the global community to reaffirm its commitment to the ideals on which the United Nations had been founded. More than 6 million Jews had lost their lives in part due to the “insanity of some and the inertia of others”. The united efforts of many States had led to the liberation of the concentration camps, and it was just such cooperation that would allow mankind to confront challenges in the future. All nations must fight discrimination, whatever its manifestations, and demonstrate the political resolve to overcome all challenges to human dignity.
ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus) said that the Nazis had built the fourth largest extermination camp in a little village just outside of Belarus, where the lives of millions had been snuffed out. Not a single one saw the light of liberation, as the Nazis totally destroyed that camp in an effort to cover up their atrocities. The people of Belarus, who had lost every fourth citizen in the last World war, had remained deeply sensitive to the legacy of that war. It lived in the memory of old men, women and children in the 619 villages that had been “burned alive” by SS death squads. It lived on in the firm belief that peace was the highest value in life. The people of Belarus were passionately anti-war. That legacy lived on in their deep concern over the fact that, in today’s world, the plague of hateful ideas and ethnic exclusivity and superiority had not yet died.
He said that sentiment also lived on in his people’s sorrow. The great and powerful had not yet yielded to the realization that a flawed peace was better than a forthright quarrel. Yet, when the world recalled the unimaginable fate of the prisoners of the Nazi camps, they might try to consider again the wisdom of those who had low expectations of life, but were well aware that any peaceful solution was better than the horrors of war. If one day, the tragic lessons of that war were quietly consigned to oblivion, then mankind would have failed the major test of its humanity.
DENIS DANGUE REWAKA (Gabon) said his country joined others in paying tribute to all those that had suffered from martyrdom, deportation and barbarity in the Nazi concentration camps. The duty to remember was all the more significant today, when, repeatedly, history threatened to return to those dark times that “we all thought were long behind us”. It was up to the international community to promote democracy, human rights and shared values to ensure that the past was neither forgotten nor repeated.
AUGUSTINE P. MAHIGA (United Republic of Tanzania) said that the systemic and widespread murder of the Jews had not happened by chance. Nor had other recent grave human rights abuses witnessed in the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, or the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. None should have happened, but they did. And, in each case, that was because people willed them, planned them, and executed them. The only comfort enjoyed today was that never before had the international community shared a common sense of resolve to promote human rights and human dignity. Never before had States and their leaders shared a sense of responsibility against the forces of evil and the indignities confronting humanity. That determination had been the driving force behind the First Summit of the International Conference on Peace, Security, Democracy and Development in the Great Lakes Region, culminating in the Dar es Salaam Declaration.
He said his country, as Rwanda’s neighbour, recalled with anguish the systemic planning and execution of the genocide, during which nearly 1 million of Rwanda’s Tutsi population and moderate Hutus were murdered. Rwanda must serve as yet another painful reminder that the resolve “never again” could easily slide back to “again and again!” Today’s commemoration should also reinforce the world’s dedication to the protection and promotion of the dignity and worth of the human being. The continuing plight of the Palestinian people posed a particular burden to the world’s collective conscience. His firm support for the State of Israel and all Jewish people must never be in doubt, but so must be his unflinching support for justice and statehood for the people of Palestine.
KIM SAM-HOON (Republic of Korea) said the tragic calamity of the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust had underscored how racial hatred could lead human beings to commit horrible acts of violence against their fellow man. Atrocities committed during the Second World War had not been confined to Europe, as other regions of the globe had also endured massive human rights violations and forced brutality. It was the collective obligation of all nations to promote education and tolerance and to ensure that such tragedies might never be repeated.
He recalled that the revelations that had emerged following the liberation of the concentration camps, dovetailing with the end of the war, had not only led to the creation of the United Nations, but also to the elaboration of international human rights covenants and treaties, chiefly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Unfortunately, the end of the Nazi camps did not mark the end of genocide, and recent tragedies reinforced the need for global actors to redouble their efforts to build a reliable and efficient system of collective security. “If we are ever to break free of the hatred and violence that plagues the world, we must begin by embracing the idea that all human beings are truly created equal and have the same inherent right to live in peace and security and with dignity”, he said.
RONALDO SARDENBERG (Brazil) said the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime had beggared the imagination and caused the most profound distress among all those who strove to understand how such barbarities could ever have been committed. The liberation of the camps was the prelude to the defeat of the Nazi regime. The Second World War was coming to an end, and there was great hope that humankind might experience more peaceful times. Brazil had sent 25,000 soldiers and a fighter squadron to join the allies in the European theatres of operation. It had also been attacked in the South Atlantic. On the battlefield, hundreds of young Brazilians gave their lives for peace and freedom. The favourable political climate of 1945 had offered an opportunity to reverse the recent moral collapse.
Indeed, 60 years later, countries and regions ravaged by the global conflict enjoyed peace and prosperity and had contributed significantly to international stability, he said. Over the years, the United Nations had underscored its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. The International Criminal Court had been established to ensure that the most hideous crimes, including genocide and war crimes, would not go unpunished. The world must continue to do its utmost to ensure the Court’s independence and universality, but it must also acknowledge that grave and systematic human rights violations continued to be committed. Of particular concern was the persistence of armed conflict and the growing number of civilian deaths. Such conflicts must be prevented and peaceful solutions found. The international community must confirm its resolute commitment to combating racism and associated forms of intolerance.
KENZO OSHIMA (Japan) said it was incumbent upon the world community to remember past mistakes and learn from them and recommit to the collective resolve to never let them happen again. He recalled that during the Second World War, a Japanese diplomat at the country’s embassy in Lithuania had issued thousands of travel visas to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime, allowing them transit through Japan before going on to their destinations. He had been proud that that diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, had been identified this morning by the Secretary-General as one of the many “Schindlers” who had risked much to help those during the War.
Mr. Oshima went on to recall that marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war, a top Japanese official had stressed that, during a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan had advanced along the road to war only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis and had caused suffering to many people, particularly in Asian nations. That diplomat had expressed his country’s remorse and had apologized for its actions. Mr. Oshima would reiterate that remorse today. This year, as the United Nations celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, Japan would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its entry into the Organization. In that time, Japan had moved far beyond its “enemy State” status and had long since become one of the Organization’s largest contributors. Indeed, Japan had become a true “MemberState” with an undivided commitment to and faith in the objectives in the United Nations. Japan was proud of its record as a United Nations Member State and would pledge to continue promoting international cooperation and working towards world peace and development, based on the ideals of the Charter.
MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC (Romania) said it was right to honour this day at the United Nations. The past should be remembered, and its lessons should serve to guide the future. Many Romanian Jews had perished in the camps. As the world was learning the full extent of the horror, Romania was also realizing the full depth of the tragedy that had befallen its citizens. His country had taken a long and painful journey of recovering the whole truth about those traumatic years. It was Romania’s duty to know and not forget. It had to take a critical appraisal of its history so that the past, as it really happened, would not be forgotten. Only then could the country construct its future. The Romanian experience with its own Jewish community during the Second World War and the fact that its fellow citizens had been victims of the Holocaust should neither be forgotten nor belittled.
He said that, as the tragedy of the Holocaust had unfolded, his own country had witnessed the emergence of power of the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic legionnaire movement. The Jewish population in Romania had been subjected to hideous crimes and had been deported from parts of the country’s territory to concentration camps. In an effort to understand what had happened in the country, the Government had assigned the task of disclosing all relevant facts concerning Romania’s participation in the Holocaust to a national committee, chaired by Elie Wiesel. The report would set the basis for any future investigation of that horrendous phenomenon and disseminate information about it to the younger generations. That measure was part of a broader programme to consider the events related to the Holocaust. Romania had a long-standing commitment to come to terms with its past and to establish a record of international cooperation in researching the Holocaust. It should not be forgotten that, even under harsh conditions, many Romanians had risked their lives to save fellow Jewish citizens.
CESAR MAYORAL (Argentina) said memory went hand in hand with truth, and kept marching onwards. He went on to recount the atrocities of the Holocaust in the wake of the discovery of the Auschwitz concentration camp some 60 years ago, when the vanguard of the Soviet army had stumbled across several thousand haggard survivors abandoned by the Nazis because they were not considered strong enough to walk to another death camp. He recalled the words and testimonies of a host of survivors to illustrate that the will to remember shaped mankind’s destiny, and memory, will and truth would come together on 27 January, the anniversary of the discovery of Auschwitz.
JOEL W. ADECHI (Benin) said that Nazism was a rejection of those inalienable principles on which modern society was based, and which were vital to the creation of the United Nations: respect for life; the equality of individuals and peoples; and their right of self-determination, regardless of gender, race, language or religion. The key was the advancement of human dignity. The United Nations Charter had consecrated that fundamental principle and made it the foundation for relations among States. The seriousness of the abuses perpetrated in the camps remained troubling today. The United Nations had rightly undertaken the mission of protecting human dignity and the inalienable rights of all peoples on earth. It had demonstrated outstanding perseverance and determination against apartheid and colonialism, and in its overall effort to prevent genocide and other atrocities incompatible with the protection of personal freedom.
He paid tribute to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had sought valiantly to combat impunity, including through the promotion of the creation of the International Criminal Court. All Member States shared the duty to do everything possible to prevent a re-emergence of hateful ideologies and regimes inspired by racism and anti-Semitism. The world must remain vigilant to ensure the failure of tyranny and all forms of barbaric behaviour. Today’s session was an opportunity to reflect on the past and renew the commitment to act to prevent further assaults on human dignity. The United Nations must be in the vanguard of that fight, acting with unshakable faith in the ability of the human race to remedy its shortcomings and resolutely serve the ideal of humanism.
STANISLAS KAMANZI (Rwanda) said the United Nations had been formed to ensure, among other things, that the world never experienced the kind of horrors the Nazis inflicted upon the Jewish people across Europe. Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, both adopted in 1948, had recognized that “the inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. But despite those international expressions of solidarity, the world was to be reminded of the odious crime of genocide in 1994, when more than 1 million people were slaughtered in Rwanda over a three-month period.
So today, while the Assembly stood united in its reaffirmation of the principles in the Charter and the Universal Declaration, it should also take stock of its failure to prevent genocide not only in Rwanda, but in Cambodia and the Balkans as well. “Questions need to be asked about what caused the failures if we are to learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that they do not recur”, he said. Rwanda believed that the issue of the prevention of genocide must be given serious attention. Member States must ensure that the United Nations had a functioning early-warning system in place to prevent future atrocities. States must also ensure that the Security Council was not polarized or rendered ineffective in addressing such crises, he added.
BAKI ILKIN (Turkey) said the special session enabled the international community to recommit itself, once again, to the fundamental principles and noble goals upon which the Organization was founded. Only through mutual understanding, respect and tolerance, was it possible to build a better world and a brighter future for all, thereby preventing a repetition of such a catastrophe. Throughout its history, Turkey had been a safe haven and a second home for the oppressed and persecuted. It had become host to numerous ethnic groups, cultures and religions, which was how it had developed a deep-rooted culture of tolerance, conciliation and coexistence. Turkey had always adopted a firm stance against all forms of racism, intolerance and xenophobia, including anti-Semitism, in all international forums, and it would continue to strive for the eradication of those scourges.
He recalled that, during the Inquisition more than 500 years ago, the Sephardic Jews had taken refuge and found a safe haven in Turkey. Since then, they had been living and flourishing in Istanbul and contributing to Turkey’s cultural diversity. Likewise, during the darkest days of the twentieth century, the pre-war and Second World War era, Turkey again welcomed Jews trying to escape Nazi persecution. A good number of them took part in the reorganization and modernization process of Turkish universities, in city planning, in the construction sector and in medical research. During the Second World War, the Turkish diplomats serving in occupied Europe had helped hundreds of Jews to escape oppression by issuing them Turkish passports and identification cards. He had been very touched by the Secretary-General’s reference today to Selahattin Ulkumen, one of those Turkish diplomats.
JOHN DAUTH (Australia) said that 60 years ago nations across the world had succeeded in defeating a barbaric and tyrannical Nazi regime that had been bent on the systematic eradication of the Jewish people and the violent repression of many other races. The people of the Allied powers had come together in common cause –- to defend the ideals of personal freedom and national independence. Young Australians had joined that cause, and sadly more than 39,000 had given their lives.
Australia had been proud of the role it had played in the cause of freedom and was equally proud of the welcoming home it had provided after the war to many survivors of the camps. The world’s nations must not ever forget the millions of innocents that perished because of hatred, irrationality and indifference, he said, urging the Assembly to let the testimony of those who lived, as well as the memory of those who had perished, serve as a guide to safeguard people from the scourge of war and to preserve and advance fundamental human rights, justice and social progress.
IMERIA NUÑEZ DE ODREMAN (Venezuela) said her Government was continuing the country’s tradition, begun in 1939, when it granted territory to a group of Jews that had been victims of Nazi persecution in Europe. In Venezuela, they had lived free from oppression and harassment and in close cooperation with other citizens for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, the conquests waged by America and its allies in the second half of the twentieth century to date should be borne in mind. The Second World War had been an anti-imperialistic war for freedom, in which the Soviet Union had played a key role.
She called for the creation of a memorial for the sake of justice for the peoples of the world and in memory of the Holocaust victims. A memorial should also be created for the Japanese holocaust and the destruction of the Vietnamese people in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as for the extermination in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the Tutsi disaster in Rwanda, also in the 1990s. The massacres of Iraqis and Afghans now taking place should also be recalled today, as well as the destruction of the land and lifestyle of the indigenous peoples.
ANTHONY ANDANJE (Kenya) said the atrocities of the Holocaust had taken place while the world watched. That systematic pattern of extermination -- complete with the international community’s lackadaisical response -– had repeated itself in Rwanda, Kosovo and other places. “We have always been too slow to act”, he said, adding that the resulting horrific consequences were predictable. As a community of nations faced with fresh threats and challenges, “we must reassert ourselves towards a new vision of collective security”. The United Nations must never shy away from trouble, and never be sceptical or undecided. And while there would always be things that people did not want to know or were afraid to look into, complacency and reticence in such crises would cost the international community immeasurably.
“We should never be satisfied with making ourselves comfortable knowing that there are thousands of our brothers and sisters who suffer for the lack of the barest necessities of life”, he said. And while an exact predictive model for mass violence might be not seem practicable, the international community had an obligation to develop a model that highlighted the warnings signs for genocide. With such information, policies, strategies and programmes could be developed to counter those atrocities and, thus, “prevent Sobibor, Auschwitz, Belzec, Rwanda or Kosovo from haunting us all”.
DON MACKAY (New Zealand) said the sheer scale, callousness and deliberation behind Adolph Hitler’s “final solution” made the Holocaust stand out in the global consciousness as the ultimate act of man’s inhumanity to man. And while New Zealanders had fought and died alongside the allied troops in the hope that their sacrifice might help prevent future acts of war and genocide, sadly, that hope had not been realized. All too often in recent history, human beings continued to show the capacity to inflict death and destruction upon each other. “We have a responsibility to actively promote tolerance and understanding, and respect for those of different races, religions and colours”, he said.
The international community had the responsibility to fight racism and anti-Semitism and to ensure that those that committed war crimes and crimes against humanity were brought swiftly to justice. Recalling the killing fields of Cambodia, and the brutality against fellow human beings in conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and Darfur, he said: “We must do more. Preventing genocide must be the highest priority for this body in the years ahead.”
Archbishop CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer for the Holy See to the United Nations, said the international community today contemplated the consequences of intolerance, as it recalled all those who were targeted by the political and social engineering of the Nazis. Those considered unfit for society –- the Jews, the Slavonic peoples, the Roma people, the disabled, homosexuals, among others –- were marked for extermination. Those who dared to oppose the regime by word or deed often paid for their opposition with their lives. The death camps were also witness to an unprecedented plan for the deliberate, systematic extermination of a whole people, the Jewish people.
He said that, in a century marked by manmade catastrophes, the Nazi death camps were a particularly sobering reminder of man’s inhumanity to man and of his capacity for evil. Nevertheless, it should also be remembered that humankind was also capable of great good, of self-sacrifice and altruism. His delegation welcomed the chance to remember the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, so that humanity would not forget the terror of which man was capable, the evils of arrogant political extremism and social engineering, and the need to build a safer, saner world for every man, woman and child. He beseeched all men and women of good will to seize that solemn occasion to say “never again” to such crimes, no matter their political inspiration, so that all nations, as well as the United Nations, might truly respect the life, liberty and dignity of every human being.
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