(Delayed for technical reasons)
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the Park East Synagogue Holocaust Remembrance ceremony in New York, 26 January:
Rabbi Schneier, thank you for bringing us together. I am at home with you and I am at home at Park East Synagogue. I delivered one of my very first speeches as Secretary-General here — and I have been honoured to return. On each occasion, I stressed the need to learn the lessons of the Holocaust — and sounded the alarm about the resurgence of anti-Semitism across our world.
The last time I was with you together in this sanctuary, as Rabbi Schneier remembered, it was just four days after a man carrying weapons of war stormed into a synagogue on Shabbat in Pittsburgh shouting “all Jews must die”. When the bullets stopped, 11 people lay dead. Brothers. Husbands and wives. A 97-year-old woman. All gunned down in prayer. And targeted, it also appears at least in part, for performing a mitzvah, living their faith and welcoming the stranger — new immigrants to the Pittsburgh area.
It was a barbaric assault — the worst anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States. In our sorrow, we joined hands here in this pulpit. We were united in our feelings of horror and solidarity. We were inspired by you, Rabbi, and your powerful commitment to interfaith understanding rooted in your own knowledge of tragedy as a Holocaust survivor. We stood together — Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, including the top leadership of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. We proclaimed our unity and mutual respect. We declared our utter opposition to hatred of any kind — and its purveyors. And we pledged to transcend the lines that divide and to defend equality for all.
That work continues, including by the United Nations. I am afraid, however, that in the months since Pittsburgh we have had more reasons for profound concern. Last month, headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg were defaced with swastikas. This month, rocks were thrown through the windows of the central synagogue in Sofia. And for some time now, anti-Semitic attacks in the United States and Europe have been on the rise.
Growing numbers of Jews fear for their safety. Statistics and polls paint a deeply worrying picture. Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 57 per cent in 2017. One European poll reported last year that 28 per cent of Jews had experienced some form of harassment for being Jewish. Another revealed the strong persistence of classic anti-Semitic motifs. The old anti-Semitism is back — and getting worse. Nazi symbols and slogans remain widespread as anti-hate organizations track hundreds of neo-Nazi, pro-Nazi and white supremacist groups. A recent PBS Frontline documentary conducted an in-depth exploration of one of the extremist and white supremacist organizations in the United States.
The hate groups’ views and methods are right out of Mein Kampf. They recruit by targeting the disaffected. They seek out people with military experience — and encourage sympathizers to join the armed forces to gain weapons training. They advance so-called lone-wolf attacks just like the one in Pittsburgh. And as we know all too well, where there is hatred of Jews, hatred of others is also near at hand. I believe it was Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who said: “The hate that starts with Jews never stops with Jews.”
Indeed, across the world, we are seeing a disturbing increase in other forms of bigotry. Attacks on Muslims are on the rise. Intolerance today spreads at lightning speed across the Internet and social media. Hate groups use social media to link up with like-minded bigots across borders. And hate is moving into the mainstream — as major political parties incorporating ideas from the fringes and parties once rightly considered pariahs are gaining influence. We should not exaggerate the comparisons to the 1930s, but equally we should not ignore the similarities.
Hatred is easy to uncork, and very hard to put back in the bottle. Some of you may know of the recently rediscovered 1924 Austrian silent film, The City Without Jews. It was featured this month at the New York Jewish Film Festival. The film is based on a book from 1922 — in other words, even before Mein Kampf. In Vienna, in Austria, the city of Rabbi Schneier. A country’s economy is in tatters. Opportunistic politicians need a scapegoat. And so they say: let’s blame the Jews. Jews were hounded, harassed and ultimately expelled. They were forced to leave in masses, by train and on foot.
At the time, such imaginings might have been dismissed as the height of absurdity. New York’s local newspaper called it “one of the most fatuous productions imaginable”. Yet within years, cinematic satire turned into real-life prophecy. Today, the film has taken on a new life as a warning to act early, before the unthinkable fiction becomes all too real fact.
This is the painful backdrop for today’s observance marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. We are together to honour the memory of the 6 million Jews and millions of others who were systematically murdered. Our urgent challenge today is to heed the lessons of a period when human dignity was cast aside for a racist ideology.
I was disturbed to learn that a recent poll in Europe found that one third of people say they know little or nothing about the Holocaust. Among millennials, some two thirds had no idea Auschwitz was a death camp. We are also seeing attempts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and to sanitize the wartime records of leaders, citizens and societies. As the number of survivors dwindles, it falls to us to carry their testimony to future generations.
And so my answer to Rabbi Schneier’s question as to who will speak on behalf of the survivors, is: we will. Education is crucial. We must teach our children to love before others teach them to hate. The United Nations is strongly committed to being at the forefront of this important work. Our Holocaust Outreach Programme has activities in dozens of countries.
I have just asked my Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to mobilize the whole United Nations system and devise a global plan of action to deepen our efforts to counter hate speech. And I believe your suggestion today will probably be an important piece of that. We are also striving at a deeper level to address the roots of the fears and anger that make people susceptible to populism and the divisive appeals of opportunistic political figures. That means working for a fair globalization and building democratic societies. And it means ensuring that Governments and international organizations show they care about people and are attuned to their needs and aspirations. I include the United Nations in this. And this is a job for all societies, everywhere.
Last November, on the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, a number of Jewish leaders, including a Holocaust survivor, came to my office to present me with a book documenting the pogrom. I was startled to see that it took two thick volumes to account for all that was lost: architecturally distinguished houses of worship, beautiful prayer books, other sacred items — and of course, the loss of human lives. I was also struck by a map showing the cities and towns where the attacks took place. The white dots covering Germany looked as countless as stars in the sky — yet another indication of the terrible scope of the crime.
Rabbi Schneier, I know you witnessed Kristallnacht as a boy in Vienna, and that you had an emotional return visit to that city to mark the anniversary. We see in your life, and in those of so many other survivors, the remarkable ability to begin again, to believe again, and to love again. The United Nations was its own form of hope after the tragedy. Like Rabbi Schneier and all of you, I thought that after the Holocaust, the revulsion at what had just happened would be so powerful that anti-Semitism would disappear. Sadly, the world’s oldest form of prejudice has persisted to torment new generations.
On Monday, we will hold our annual Holocaust memorial ceremony at United Nations Headquarters. We will never forget what happened. And we will never let it be forgotten by others. We will be watching for signs of genocide in our time. And we will always be ever at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and hatred, and to strengthen all we do to uphold human dignity for all.