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2005-01-24—Shalom—UN Holocaust Commemoration

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2005 blog


United Nations, Israel were twin

responses to the Holocaust—Shalom
,  Jan. 24, 2005

holocaust file


The United Nations and Israel were twin responses from the world trying to prevent another 
Holocaust, Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told a special session of the United Nations 
General Assembly on Monday (Jan. 24)

At a gathering to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, Shalom said the Holocaust "proved anew the urgency of the re-establishment of the Jewish state—a state which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness, by opening the gates to all Jews, and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations.

"And indeed, since its establishment, Israel has provided a haven for Jews facing persecution 
anywhere in the world," Shalom said in prepared remarks for the occasion. At the same time, Israel  "built a society, based on the values of democracy and freedom for all its citizens, where Jewish  life and culture and literature and religion and learning—all those things which the nazis sought to destroy—can flourish and thrive."

The foreign minister said the United Nations represents another positive response to the Holocaust.  "The very first clauses of the UN Charter bear witness to the understanding of the founders, that  this new international organization must serve as the world's answer to evil, that it comes, and I  quote: 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,' to 'reaffirm faith in fundamental  human rights' and 'the dignity and worth of the human person.'

"By convening here today in this historic special session, we honor the victims, we pay respect to 
the survivors, and we pay tribute to the liberators," Shalom said. "We convene here today for those  who remember, for those who have forgotten, and for those who do not know. But we also convene to  remember that the Charter of this United Nations, like Israel's Declaration of Independence, is  written in the blood of the victims of the Holocaust. And we convene today to recommit ourselves to  the noble principles, on which this organization was founded."

Shalom brought some special guests with him to the historic special session—including survivors 
Dov Shilansky "who fought in the ghetto and later became speaker of Israel's parliament, the 
Knesset"; Yossi Peled, "who after being evacuated from the terrors of the nazis, eventually became  a major-general in the Israel Defense forces, to protect his people from the horrors of another calamity," David Grinstein, "who survived the labor camps and now heads an organization for restitution for  the forced laborers under nazi rule, and Gila Almagor, "today the first lady of Israeli stage and screen, who has transmitted her experiences as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, into art that  has touched millions."

Shalom also acknowledged the Jewish community's debt to the Righteous Gentiles, who risked their own lives to stand up to the nazi terror--"people such as Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jewish lives, and whose niece, Nane, is here with us today."

The foreign minister said there are signs that the world has not learned the important lessons of 
the Holocaust. "Once again the plague of anti-Semitism is raising its head," he said. "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 witnessed the  nazi atrocities. Yet this is exactly what is happening. The Holocaust teaches us that while Jews may be the first to suffer from anti-Semitism's destructive hate, they have rarely been the last."

Additionally, Shalom said, "once again we are witnessing, against Jews and other minorities, that 
same process of delegitimization and dehumanization, that paved the way to destruction. Let us not forget, the brutal extermination of a people began not with guns or tanks but with words, 
systematically portraying the Jew--the other--as less than legitimate, less than human. Let us not 
forget this, when we find current newspapers and schoolbooks borrowing caricatures fand themes from  the nazi paper Der Sturmer to portray Jews and Israelis."

Another sign, said Shalom, is that "we are witnessing a violent assault on the fundamental 
principle of the sanctity of life. Perhaps the greatest single idea that the Bible has given to 
humanity, is the simple truth that every man, woman and child, is created in the divine image, and 
so, is of infinite value. For the nazis, the value of a man was finite, even pitiful. How much 
work could he do? How much hair did she have? How many gold teeth? For the nazis the destruction of one human being, or of a hundred, a thousand, six million, was of no consequence. It was just a means to an evil end.

"Today, again, we are pitted against the forces of evil, those for whom human life—whether the 
civilians they target, or their own youth who they uses as weapons—are of no value, nothing but a means to their goals...No ideology, no political agenda, can justify or excuse the deliberate 
taking of an innocent life."

The United Nations press office supplied the following capsule summaries of the points made by other speakers.

The General Assembly President, Foreign Minister Jean Ping of Gabon, said the session was symbolic because, through it, 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."

Elie Wiesel said Auschwitz was "an executioner's ideal of a kingdom of absolute evil and malediction." But he looked to the present and future, too, calling for the trial and punishment of those who today preach and practice the cult of death and use suicide terrorism. "The past is in the present, but the future is still in our hands," he declared.

Brian Urquhart, a former UN Under-Secretary-General who was among the first Allied troops to reach the Bergen-Belsen death camp, told the session the inhuman conditions of the starving, broken and traumatized prisoners had to be seen to be believed. "The dead and dying were everywhere," he said. "Who could imagine such horrors?" Like many other speakers, he raised the rallying cry of "never again."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the UN was ideally suited for genocide prevention since no other organization had so much experience in conflict prevention and the promotion and protection of human rights. "Precisely because genocide never happens entirely without warning, we have to work on combating its harbingers," he declared.

Ambassador AG Ravan Farhadi of Afghanistan, speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said 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.

Speaking on behalf of the Eastern European Group, Ambassador Stefan Tafrov of Bulgaria said 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. Remembering that political and above all, moral catastrophe of the past was the best way to fight the evils of the present, he added.

Ambassador Manuel Acosta Bonilla of Honduras, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean States, said 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 (ICC) had been established had been important steps towards achieving that goal. "We cannot leave such tragic and dark legacies to our children," he said.

Portuguese Ambassador João Salgueiro, speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group, called on the Assembly to once again renew the vows of its foundation, "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."

Earlier, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed the special session (see previous story)

 —Donald H. Harrison