Secretary-General Spotlights Re-emerging Crisis of Antisemitism, Warning ‘We Can Never Lower Our Guard’, at Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

SG/SM/19951
27 January 2020

Secretary-General Spotlights Re-emerging Crisis of Antisemitism, Warning ‘We Can Never Lower Our Guard’, at Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the United Nations Holocaust memorial ceremony, on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, in New York today:

We meet in the General Assembly of the United Nations today to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to remember the 6 million Jews and many others who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and to re-commit to preventing any repetition of those crimes.  I extend a special welcome to the survivors here with us today.  We are all deeply grateful to them and to all Holocaust survivors, who inspire us with their strength and their example.

Our solidarity in the face of hatred is needed today more than ever, as we see a deeply worrying resurgence in antisemitic attacks around the world, and almost unbelievable, also around us here in New York.  Just 30 miles from here, less than a month ago, a knife attack on a Hanukkah party left five people injured at a rabbi’s house in the small community of Monsey [New York].  That came just a few weeks after the killing of four people at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey.  New York saw a 21 per cent rise in antisemitic hate crimes in 2019, part of a trend in cities across the United States.

But, the situation for Jews in Europe is, if anything, worse.  France saw a 74 per cent increase in antisemitic attacks in 2018.  In the United Kingdom, they rose by 16 per cent to a record high.  An attack on a synagogue in the German town of Halle during Yom Kippur last October left two people dead.  In Italy, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor was provided with an armed escort after she suffered a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse.

We need to name this phenomenon for what it is:  There is a global crisis of antisemitic hatred, a constant stream of attacks targeting Jews, their institutions and property.  Almost every day brings new reports of hate crimes.  Many of the perpetrators are inspired by previous attacks, glorifying the assailants and creating a self-reinforcing vortex of violence.  Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are resurgent, organizing themselves and spreading their poisonous ideology and iconography online.  The Internet, from social media to online gaming platforms and the dark web, is their playground and their recruiting office.  They manipulate video content and poison young minds.

This upsurge of anti-Semitism cannot be seen in isolation from an extremely troubling increase in xenophobia, homophobia, discrimination and hatred in many parts of the world, targeting people on the basis of their identity, including race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability and immigration status.  Attacks against religious minorities are a particular concern.  Around the world, we have seen Jews murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched; and Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized.

As the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, has said:  “The hate that begins with Jews never ends there.”  Seventy-five years ago today, when the soldiers of the Soviet army entered Auschwitz, they were stunned into silence by what they saw.  The Nazis’ efforts to hide their crimes were undermined by the clear evidence of millions of pieces of clothing and tons of hair.  To quote Primo Levi, the liberators felt “guilt that such a crime should exist”.

Like the soldiers, we are revolted by the horrific details of Auschwitz.  But it is our duty to look and to continue looking, to learn and to relearn the lessons of the Holocaust, so that it is never repeated.  The most important lesson is that the Holocaust was not an aberration committed at a particular moment in history by a few unspeakably sick people.  It was the culmination of millennia of hatred, from the Roman Empire to the pogroms of the Middle Ages.  My own country, Portugal, committed an act of utter cruelty and stupidity by expelling its Jewish population in the end of the fifteenth century.

European Jews were excluded from almost all areas of economic activity, scapegoated if they succeeded and defined as inferior.  One scheme put forward decades before Hitler’s rise to power involved shipping all Eastern Europe’s Jews to the African island of Madagascar.  When I visited Yad Vashem two years ago, I was appalled once again by the ability of anti-Semitism to reinvent itself and re-emerge over millennia.  It takes new forms, it may be spread by new techniques, but it is the same old hatred.  We can never lower our guard.

And far from being the project of a few insane individuals, the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews and other vulnerable people involved architects, scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, drivers, bureaucrats and soldiers.  Millions of ordinary people were de-sensitized to crimes against humanity taking place around them, often described by euphemisms like “special measures”.  As the great writer Hannah Arendt said, most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

The Holocaust was a complex operation arising from long-held prejudices and required the corruption of society from top to bottom, the corruption of language, of education and political discourse.  As we work to live up to the promise of “Never again”, we need to examine our own prejudices, guard against the misuse of our own technology and be alert to any signs that hatred is being normalized.

Prejudice and hatred thrive on insecurity, frustrated expectations, ignorance and resentment.  Populist leaders exploit these feelings to whip up fear in pursuit of power.  When any group of people is defined as a problem, it becomes easier to commit human rights abuses and to normalize discrimination against them.  Combating prejudice requires leadership at all levels that fosters social cohesion and addresses the root causes of hatred.  It requires investment in all parts of society, so that all can contribute in a spirit of mutual respect.

Promoting social cohesion and human rights, and addressing discrimination and hatred are among the overriding aims of the United Nations, through our efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The Decade of Action I launched last week is aimed at stepping up support for countries around the world to build inclusive, diverse, respectful societies that provide lives of dignity and opportunity for all.

L’éducation est un élément essentiel de la solution. L’ignorance est le terreau du mensonge et du révisionnisme. « Plus jamais ça », cela veut dire enseigner l’histoire, encore et encore.

Les rescapés de l’Holocauste avancent en âge, et c’est à nous qu’il revient de transmettre leur témoignage aux nouvelles générations. Nous devons également chérir celles et ceux dont la vie même est un camouflet envers les forces de la haine et du mal. De nombreux rescapés vivent dans des conditions difficiles ; il nous incombe de leur offrir dignité et sécurité au crépuscule de leur existence.

Les musées ont un rôle important à jouer, et j’ai été impressionné par la créativité avec laquelle les technologies interactives sont utilisées pour préserver le témoignage des survivants. L’exposition qui se tient actuellement dans l’entrée des visiteurs, intitulée « Certains étaient nos voisins », montre comment la collaboration et la complicité se sont propagées dans la société allemande et les pays sous occupation nazie.

L’UNESCO et le Programme de communication sur l’Holocauste et les Nations Unies offrent des documents écrits et vidéo qui permettent d’informer, de sensibiliser et d’inciter à agir contre la haine et la discrimination partout dans le monde.

Nous nous employons à promouvoir une utilisation responsable des technologies qui accélérant la diffusion des discours de haine et des fausses informations, notamment sur les médias sociaux.

Les efforts déployés jusqu’à présent se sont avérés insuffisants, mais certaines initiatives récentes sont encourageantes.

La Stratégie et le Plan d’action des Nations Unies contre les discours de haine que j’ai lancés l’année dernière concrétisent notre engagement à agir tous ensemble contre ce fléau. Et J’ai l’intention de faire avancer les travaux en organisant cette année une conférence interministérielle.

On a également lancé le Plan d’action des Nations Unies pour la sauvegarde des sites religieux, qui contient des recommandations concrètes pour aider les États à faire en sorte que leurs citoyens puissent pratiquer leur culte en paix.

En outre, les nouvelles technologies de surveillance peuvent également être détournées par les États et les entreprises pour discriminer certaines personnes ou les priver de leurs droits. Le Groupe de haut niveau sur la coopération numérique a recommandé des mesures pour protéger les droits humains à l’ère du numérique – mesures que nous entendons mettre en œuvre en coopération avec tous les acteurs. Il s’agira notamment de travailler avec nos partenaires pour définir des normes qui favoriseront une utilisation juste, responsable et transparente de l’intelligence artificielle et du cyberespace.

Nous devons unir nos efforts pour protéger les personnes dans cet environnement non réglementé.

Et Nous devons aussi nous efforcer d’empêcher la corruption de la langue. Nous ne pouvons permettre que des euphémismes et des expressions codés soient utilisés pour occulter des idées sectaires ou des crimes. Les mots peuvent tuer. L’Holocauste a commencé par des mots.

Nous devons être vigilants face aux mots et aux expressions inspirés d’idées nazies comme « le sang et le sol », qui font leur retour dans certains pays, aussi invraisemblable que cela puisse paraître. Nous ne pouvons accepter qu’une rhétorique empoisonnée et délétère devienne la norme.

Nous commémorons cette année le 75ème anniversaire de la libération d’Auschwitz-Birkenau par l’Armée Rouge, ainsi que de la création de l’ONU.

De l’horreur indescriptible des camps de la mort est né un monde nouveau, fondé sur le respect mutuel et le sentiment de notre humanité commune.

Aujourd’hui, alors que nos valeurs sont attaquées de toutes parts, nous réaffirmons nos principes avec plus de conviction que jamais.

Nous n’oublierons jamais.

Nous nous élèverons, chaque jour et partout, contre l’antisémitisme, l’intolérance et toute forme de haine.

Nous resterons unis pour défendre les droits humains et la dignité de tous.

For information media. Not an official record.