Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the Park East Synagogue and United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Service, held today:
Rabbi [Arthur] Schneier, Holocaust survivors, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it is my honour to join you today as we commemorate the seventy-seventh anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Once again, COVID-19 has forced us apart, but I take comfort in knowing that we are united in solidarity, friendship and shared purpose.
I am deeply grateful to Rabbi Schneier and all of the other survivors who humble and inspire us with their resilience and their example. We join together first and foremost to honour the memory of those who perished; to ensure they are never forgotten; to give them — as it says in the Book of Isaiah — “a monument and a name”.
As we remember the loss of so many, we reflect on the loss of so much. Six million futures stolen away — each a human being, each a universe unto themselves. Entire communities wiped out. An entire world — the world of the Shtetl — vanished forever. The magnificent mosaic of Jewish life in Europe destroyed.
Dear friends, the very essence of the work of the United Nations — for dignity and human rights, for justice and peace — is to give meaning to the pledge of “Never Again”. Antisemitism and other forms of religious bigotry are a seismograph. The more they rattle our world, the greater the cracks to the foundation of our common humanity. Today, the cracks are impossible to ignore.
Antisemitism — the oldest form of hate and prejudice — is resurgent yet again. Almost every day brings new reports of verbal assaults and physical attacks; of cemeteries desecrated and synagogues vandalized. Just last week, we watched in horror as a Rabbi and members of his congregation were held hostage in their synagogue in Texas.
Around the world, Jewish boys are warned not to wear the Kippah in public for fear of being assaulted. Around the clock, Jewish schools need police stationed outside. And we see many other contemporary manifestations of the centuries-old hatred.
We sense it in the startling regularity with which conspiracy theories devolve into heinous antisemitic tropes. We see it in the reprehensible way in which protestors against life-saving vaccines demonstrate wearing the yellow star. And we recognize it in the deeply disturbing attempts to deny, distort or minimize the Holocaust — which are finding fertile ground on the Internet amidst growing ignorance and disdain. In this connection, I welcome new efforts by the General Assembly and others to clearly define and actively combat Holocaust denial.
I was alarmed to learn recently that barely half of adults worldwide have even heard of the Holocaust. The lack of knowledge amongst the younger generations is worse still. Our response to ignorance must be education.
Governments everywhere have a responsibility to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust. The United Nations — including through our Holocaust Outreach Programme — is at the forefront of this crucial work.
We know that when young people learn about the Holocaust, they can better understand the fragility of shared values and democratic institutions — particularly in times of social and economic upheaval. They can learn to detect eerie echoes of the past in the prejudice, xenophobia and anti-refugee rhetoric of our own time. And by recognizing how easily hate speech can turn to hate crime, they can understand the dark path it may lead us down if left unaddressed.
They may ask why the victims’ desperate pleas for help were met with deafening silence — why so few spoke out and fewer still stood up in solidarity. And in asking these questions, they can understand how such silence in the face of hate is complicity. They can understand that the mass murder did not occur in a vacuum, but that it was the culmination of millennia of hatred and discrimination.
No society is immune to intolerance or irrationality.
My own country, Portugal, is marred by this history, too. I have spoken to you before about the expulsion of our Jewish population at the turn of the sixteenth century — an act of cruelty that caused tremendous suffering and an act of stupidity that produced centuries of stagnation.
Understanding our past is crucial to safeguarding our future.
Dear friends, 77 years ago, liberation ended the Holocaust. But it was just the beginning of our efforts to make sure such crimes can never happen again. As fewer and fewer can bear direct witness, let us together pledge to always remember and make sure others never forget.
Let us stand firm against hate and bigotry anywhere and everywhere. Let us do the work of tikkun olam — to do what we can to repair our world. And let us stand together for human rights and dignity for all.