Holocaust Remembrance Week at the UN

There are a host of events at the United Nations this week to commemorate the Holocaust. The UN, of course, was born out of the horrors of World War Two and this year’s commemorations mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Here’s Ban Ki Moon’s statement on the week’s theme: survival. 

The theme of this year’s commemoration at United Nations offices around the world is the legacy of survival.

Countless men, women and children suffered the horrors of the ghettos and Nazi death camps, yet somehow survived.

All of them carry a crucial message for all of us. A message about the triumph of the human spirit. A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail.

Survivors also play a vital role in keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive for future generations.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and most notorious of the camps, was liberated 65 years ago today. There and elsewhere, many millions of people were systematically abused and murdered. Most of them were Jews. But others were targeted, too. At Auschwitz, thousands of those killed were inhabitants of the Roma and Sinti “family camp”.

Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever ‑‑ but the legacy of their survival must live on. We must preserve their stories ‑‑ through memorials, through education, most of all through robust efforts to prevent genocide and other grave crimes.

The United Nations is fully committed to this cause. Together, let us pledge to carry forward the mission of Holocaust remembrance ‑‑ and uphold human dignity for all.

The schedule for Holocaust memorial week at the UN includes an art exhibit in the UN lobby, curated by Yad Vashem; an inter-religious dialogue sponsored by B’nai B’rith; a memorial ceremony and concert at the General Assembly to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; an NGO briefing from the government of Morocco on the legacy of the Jewish community in North Africa; and a screening of the film Defiance, in which actor Daniel Craig plays a Jewish partisan fighting Nazis in Belarus, co-sponsored by the U.S. Mission to the UN. 

Many of these events are open to the public. If you are in New York, stop by!


UPDATE: Stirring words from Susan Rice:

Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to
the United Nations, “From Memory to Resolve”, on the International Day
of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, at Park East
Synagogue, New York City, January 23, 2010

Thank you all. Shabbat shalom.

It’s an honor to be with you today. I’m glad to see many of my
diplomatic colleagues here with us, and I’m also glad to be here with my
friend, Rabbi Arthur Schneier. You all know your rabbi’s warmth and
wisdom first-hand. But as a policymaker, I am particularly grateful to
him for the work he does beyond this sacred house: as a voice for
understanding, cultural dialogue, and religious liberty-as a survivor of
the Nazi occupation of Europe who has dedicated his life to ensuring
that the lessons of the Holocaust are taught to our children and to our
children’s children. It is also a special honor to be joined this
morning by other survivors of the Shoah and their families. Thank you so
much for being here.

Before I turn to my main topic today, I want to say a few words about a
neighboring country that, even as we gather today, is enduring
unfathomable anguish and loss.

Our neighbors in Haiti have known sorrow upon sorrow, blow upon
blow-poverty, civil unrest, political instability, howling winds and
shaking earth. It’s all too easy to assume that Haiti is somehow doomed
to despair. But the fact of the matter is that-as I saw first-hand last
year on a Security Council trip-Haiti’s government and its strong and
resilient people had been making impressive progress toward greater
stability and greater prosperity before this calamity struck. We are
determined to work together with them to save lives now and to restore
hope for the years to come. The United States has embarked on one of the
largest relief efforts in recent history-to bind up the wounded, to feed
and provide water to the hungry, and to ward off even greater
catastrophe. This tragedy has only deepened our commitment to working
closely together with the Government of Haiti, with the UN, which has
itself suffered the worst loss in its history in recent days, with
nations all around the world, and with other international partners to
build a better, stronger Haiti.

Great tragedies should remind us all of our common humanity, and of our
shared duty to keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. In our
neighbors’ hour of greatest need, I hope you will all affirm that
principle in your own way by giving as generously as you can to the many
organizations doing lifesaving work in Haiti, including the Clinton-Bush
Haiti Fund.
And now, let me turn from sorrows present to sorrows past-from tragedies
unleashed by nature in our own hemisphere to atrocities planned by human
beings an ocean away.

This is the Shabbat before January 27, the day in 1945 when Auschwitz
was liberated, a day that has been set aside by the UN as an
International Day of Commemoration for those murdered in the Holocaust.

I would like to speak briefly about the chords that this day strikes in
us all-a day of limitless grief and lasting resolve.

Ladies and gentlemen, having just drawn down the curtain on the
bloodiest century in human history, the United States is determined to
ensure that the 21st century takes a far lesser toll on innocents who
should be sheltered by the rule of law and the rules of war.  Since
becoming U.S.  Ambassador to the United Nations, I have personally
reaffirmed my commitment to that cause at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, DC, at the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda, and
by lighting the flame at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The United States
relentlessly seeks a world where we have finally learned the lessons of
the Holocaust, of Rwanda, of Darfur-a world where we put effective
action behind the words “never again” by truly ending genocide.

I should add that this cause has a very personal dimension for me. In
1994, I was serving on the National Security Council staff at the White
House. That December, I visited Rwanda for the first time-just six
months after the Ex-FAR and the Interahamwe had finished with their
machetes, pangas, and guns. As long as I live, I will never forget the
horror of walking through a churchyard and schoolyard where one of the
massacres had occurred. Six months later, the decomposing bodies of
those who had been so cruelly murdered still lay thick and strewn around
what should have been a place of peace. For me, the memory of stepping
around those corpses will remain the most searing reminder imaginable of
what we must all aim to prevent.

The horrors of the recent past demand that we not let the Holocaust be
seen as somehow remote or unfathomable. We have witnessed Cambodia,
Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and other genocides-each with its own grim place
in the annals of human infamy-but nothing quite the same as the
Holocaust’s unique reach, its systematized spite, its murderous
bureaucracy, its premeditated, purposeful, and planned malice.  As Primo
Levi has written, “Never have so many human lives been extinguished in
so short a time, and with so lucid a combination of technological
ingenuity, fanaticism, and cruelty.”

Cruelty was the essence of that vast system of slaughter. We should
resist any view of the perpetrators as simply banal, as mindless cogs in
the engine of mass murder. Each and every life taken-by the pitiless
firing squads tramping behind the Wehrmacht legions, by the deliberately
created privation of the ghettoes, by the cruelly constructed factories
of death-each and every life taken was taken by a long chain of
breathing, thinking people. Those were people manning the guard towers.
Those were people calculating the schedules of the trains. Those were
people pulling the switches and the triggers. The Nazis built a vast
system of institutionalized cruelty, but no system runs itself.
Sometimes, as Christopher Browning and others have written, ordinary men
are capable of the most extraordinary viciousness.

The perpetrators made their choices. So too did the bystanders, the
people and governments who turned the other way in the hour of moral
emergency. But so too did the righteous among the nations-the villagers
who took in desperate neighbors-the diplomats who shoved aside
bureaucracy and timidity to help fleeing Jews escape the Nazi snare-the
office secretary in Amsterdam who helped hide her boss’s family for two
years, including a young girl named Anne Frank-the citizens who risked
their lives for others almost as a matter of course-the quiet men and
women who will forever remind us that human beings are capable not just
of unimaginable cruelty but also of unimaginable bravery.

We do not choose the circumstances in which we live, but we do choose
the way we respond to them. We choose. We all choose. Even in the face
of the most terrible tyranny, we choose. That is the basis of moral
agency-choices, large and small, that add up to reveal our character.

As President Obama put it in Oslo, we must face the world as it is-a
world in which human beings can rise to the most astonishing heroism or
sink to the most awful depravity-a world in which we must do more than
just bear witness-a world in which choices matter.

We must choose to keep faith with those targeted by killers and
demagogues, with those hounded from their homes by the callous and the

We must choose to celebrate the different ways in which we have all been

We must choose to defend the rights that all people have but that not
all people can exercise.

We must choose to work together to expand the reach of decency, to
resist the preachers of division, to refuse to stand by lest innocent
blood be shed.

Atrocities are not inevitable. They need not be part of the landscape of
world politics-unless we let them be. We can all be proud that the
United States has placed its Holocaust Memorial Museum by our National
Mall, not far from the home of our founding documents. We have
deliberately placed the imperatives of memory and action alongside our
most cherished national values. The Constitution embodies what we stand
for. Auschwitz embodies what we stand against.

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the way that Pharoah hardened his
heart to justify oppression. Today, we still face those who reject our
common humanity to justify uncommon callousness. We still face those who
see difference as a spur for spite rather than a source of strength. We
still face those who deny the plain facts of history. We still face
those who seek to ride the tide of malice and mistrust-those who make a
career of hatred and division.

We may never find an end to oppression. But we will never stop trying to
find one. Jewish tradition, after all, offers a simple and stern
teaching that has inspired countless men and women to try to part the
waters of injustice. Even those who are comfortable and prosperous are
obliged to identify with the powerless and the desperate-to be voices of
the voiceless-to see ourselves as if we personally had once been slaves
to Pharoah, and to stand up for those who still endure the bite and
burden of shackles from new oppressors today.

So in the early years of a new century, we must work together to apply
the lessons of the last decade’s bitter succession of genocides. We must
work together to mete out justice to the perpetrators. We must work
together to build up the world’s capacity to respond surely and swiftly
to mass slaughter. And we must work together to prevent conflict before
an ember becomes a blaze.

We all know the greatest obstacle to swift action in the face of
atrocities is, ultimately, political will. The hard truth is that
stopping genocide requires more than just the wisdom to see a way to
save innocents from the knives and the guns. It requires above all the
courage and the compassion to act.

The United States believes that countries have particularly vital duties
to shield their own populations from the depraved and the murderous. And
we believe that other states, in turn, have a responsibility to help if
a state cannot meet its fundamental duties to its citizens-or to take
collective action if a state will not meet that essential

Ladies and gentlemen, we are determined to do far more in the future to
save the innocent and the vulnerable. But we cannot bring back the six
million. We cannot bring back those cut down in the killing fields of
Cambodia. We cannot bring back those driven out under the twisted banner
of “ethnic cleansing.” We cannot bring back those shot in cold blood in
Srebrenica. We cannot bring back those who fell beneath the machetes of
Rwanda. We cannot bring back those already murdered in the genocide in

We can only rededicate ourselves to our shared commitment to human
rights and human dignity-and to a few stark and powerful beliefs.

We believe that even in war, there are rules. We believe that even in
the pursuit of power, there are limits. We believe that even in a
violent world, there are rights. And that always, there is hope.

Thank you all.