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Summary: January 24, 2005: Address by H.E. Mr. Jean Asselborn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the 28th Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, on behalf of the European Union (New York)
Mr. Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are some places and some events that are never lost in history; they will always remain present in the minds of men.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka and the other death camps are such emblematic places that will never go away, like an ever-open wound in the moral conscience of humanity. It is in the Nazi death factories, where the intentional, planned and organized extermination of millions of human beings was carried out.
In those camps, the experience of humiliation and the negation of humanity found its most absolute expression. We shall always have with us the memory of these men and women, of these children, persecuted because of their race or their religion, their political beliefs or their nationality, victims of barbarism and hate. Their suffering is untold and their experience unspeakable. All we are left with is an obligation of memory and this imprescriptible moral appeal: “never again!”
But the memory of the victims demands another duty of us: to seek to understand the sequence of causes and effects, the horrific reasoning that led millions of human beings to a death that, sixty years on, remains incomprehensible to us.
Because only this work on the historical facts can enable us to draw moral and political lessons from this concentration-camp hell so that it never happens again. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” as George Santayana noted in his well-known aphorism. The quest for the causes of the Shoah, which struck the Jews of Europe so mercilessly and blindly, but also the causes of the desire for extermination, whose victims were still other men and women, is to denounce the ideologies of hate and exclusion based on anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia which, unfortunately, still have their sad advocates in the present day.
The duty of memory also bestows upon us an obligation to educate, particularly the young generations; this is not just a moral obligation, but also a civic duty of the highest order from which we must not shrink.
I am deeply moved by the idea of being able to speak today at the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union, in the context of this commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. It is the occasion to demonstrate our respect for the countless victims, known or anonymous, of these death factories. It is also the occasion to pay a grateful tribute to the Allied Forces which, sixty years ago, put an end to the Nazi nightmare and liberated the all-too-few survivors of the camps.
It seems especially fitting that this commemoration session is being held inside the very walls of the United Nations, this organization born out of the agony of war, which in the preamble of its Charter mentions “the untold sorrow” inflicted upon humanity. This same Charter proclaims the emergence of a more just and more peaceful world order, based on respect for human rights and international law, and organized around international institutions that we have inherited from the visionaries who, meeting sixty years ago in San Francisco, created the United Nations, an organisation that is still a source of inspiration and hope for all mankind. And these two magnificient documents, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on 9 and 10 December 1948 respectively, express the same vision imprinted with humanism.
In like vein, Europe began opening up soon after the Second World War.
Fundamentally, the European project has been and continues to be a project of peace that aims—and I quote from the preamble of the 1951 Treaty of Paris—“to substitute for age old rivalries the merging of their essential interests [of the Member States]; to create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared.” (end quote).
And thus, both the United Nations and the European Union, among others, are attempts at drawing lessons from the deeply traumatic experience of the camps and the war.
These lofty and noble aspirations must be kept alive and adapted to the particular demands of our times: such is our responsibility; such is our duty; such is our commitment.
With this in mind, the “never again” that I invoked at the beginning of my address must not remain a mere moral catchphrase, no matter how powerful it may be, but should be a permanent guideline in the definition and concrete implementation of policies and measures with which we are faced. This is how a memory turns into a memorial that serves as an act of faith into the silent yet eloquent testimony inherited from the victims of the death camps. Let us heed the warning from poet Paul Eluard who reminds us: “If the echo of their voices should fade, we shall perish.”
Let us show that we are worthy of this crucial heritage!
Thank you for your attention.