Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the opening of the exhibition “Shoah: How Was It Humanly Possible?”, in New York today:
I am glad that, despite the disruptions of the past day or two, His Excellency Mr. Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, is still able to join us at the opening of this important exhibition. Shalom, Mr. President. B'ruchim haba'im. Thank you for coming.
This heart-breaking exhibition shows, step by step, a descent into barbarity — from discriminatory ideology to racist laws to hate-driven attacks, and finally to mass, systematic slaughter. The exhibition’s title asks how the Shoah was humanly possible. Implicit in the question is disbelief at the utter inhumanity of what happened.
I am afraid that one answer must be that the Holocaust was all-too-humanly possible. One of the core responsibilities of the United Nations is to prevent such assaults on fundamental freedoms and our common humanity. That mission was forged as the Second World War entered its final days, and as Auschwitz and other camps were liberated and the world began to absorb the evidence of the tragedy inflicted on millions of Jews and others.
I thank Yad Vashem for making it possible for us to display this exhibition at the United Nations, so that diplomats and visitors can learn more about how the genocide began and unfolded.
The images on display here show men, women and children targeted solely for who they were, and subjected to unspeakable abuse aimed at the elimination of an entire people. In one photograph, a man sits at the edge of a ditch, a gun at his head, about to join the pile of bodies below as a crowd of soldiers looks on.
I am told that Professor Yehuda Bauer, a leading Holocaust scholar and an academic adviser to Yad Vashem, suggested some additional commandments beyond the 10 we all know. “Thou shalt not be a perpetrator,” he said. “And thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.”
As we consider the question posed by this exhibition, I have one of my own: how many mass graves — past and present — will it take for humankind to be truly united in defence of human rights and human equality?
Each year, at this time, we rightly mark the liberation of Auschwitz. We remember a unique horror in human history. We pay tribute to the survivors, whose strength inspires, and whose dwindling numbers should compel all of us to take up the mantle of remembrance. Most of all, we pledge to do even more in our time to build a world of dignity for all. Thank you.