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2008 International Day of commemoration in memory
of the victims of the Holocaust


Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends

My name is Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations.  It is my honour and privilege to welcome you to the third annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

We will begin tonight’s ceremony with one minute of silence in honour of the victims of the Holocaust.  May I ask you all to please rise.

[Minute of silence]

Thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to offer a special welcome to the hundreds of Holocaust survivors, many of whom have travelled great distances, to join us here this evening.

Today, we gather to remember and honour the victims, the survivors, and all those who fought against the forces of evil, during one of the darkest chapters in our common history, the Holocaust.

This evening, we focus on the theme of “Civic Responsibility and the Preservation of Democratic Values”.  As we recall, the breakdown of democratic values under the Nazi regime led to widespread discrimination and the elimination of basic human rights.  This year, the world marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is no coincidence that tonight we underscore the primacy of human rights.  

At the mid-point in tonight’s programme we will hear a message from our keynote speaker, United States Congressman Tom Lantos, himself a Holocaust survivor and a champion of human rights.  Unfortunately, the Congressman’s health has prevented him from being here tonight.  His daughter, Ms. Katrina Lantos Swett will instead read his message to us on the critical importance of tonight’s theme.  Mr. Lantos is a long-time friend of the United Nations, and we offer him our best wishes for a strong recovery.

As you may be aware, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is presently in Rwanda, a country which experienced a horrendous genocide only 14 years ago, and which tragically serves as yet another reminder of the need to educate citizens about the dangers of hatred and bigotry.  The Secretary-General is unable to be with us here this evening, but he recorded this message for us before leaving New York.

[VIDEO MESSAGE Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon]

Our first speaker this evening is the custodian of this august hall in which we meet – the President of the 61st Session of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Srgjan Kerim. Mr. President...

[Statement by President of the General Assembly]

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for those inspiring words.  

I am pleased to introduce our next speaker, His Excellency Ambassador
Daniel Gillerman, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations.

[Statement by Ambassador Gillerman]

Thank you, Ambassador Gillerman, for your powerful message.

Now let me introduce the young men and women behind me.  We are honoured to be joined tonight by the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra from Tel Aviv University.  The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra was founded in cooperation with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, and is conducted by Maestro Zubin Mehta.  We are grateful to Mr. Josef Buchmann for helping to bring these talented young musicians to the United Nations. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Symphony Orchestra, and Maestro Zubin Mehta.


[Intermission, keynote address]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The two pieces we have just heard capture the emotions of hope, remembrance and internal reconciliation, fitting thoughts for this solemn evening. 

I am honoured now to introduce tonight’s keynote speaker.  Although he is unable to join us this evening, his record and his tireless work to advance human rights deserve to be honoured.

Congressman Tom Lantos is the chairman of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations, and the co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Having served in Congress since 1981, Congressman Lantos has been a leader in the fight against antisemitism, the protection of human rights, and a vocal supporter of congressional action against bigotry, racism and discrimination.  He is the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to the United States Congress.  I am delighted that he has prepared a message for us tonight from his unique perspective on the importance of “Civic Responsibility and the Preservation of Democratic Values”. 

Following Congressman Lantos’ message, Cantor Itzhak [It-zak] Meir [Mayor] Helfgot, of the Park East Synagogue, will recite two memorial prayers.  After the Cantor’s recitation of the prayers, this evening’s musical performance will continue with Beethoven’s – Symphony No. 5.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my distinct privilege to invite Ms. Katrina Lantos Swett, his daughter, to the stage.