(photo credit: AP)
NEW YORK - Preserving the legacy of a dwindling number of survivors was a focal point at the United Nations' observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday.
"Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever, but the legacy of their survival must live on," said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in remarks delivered to mark the day, which coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
Established five years ago by the General Assembly, the day of observance was a reminder that survivors "carry a crucial message for all of us," Ban said. "A message about the triumph of the human spirit. A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail."
This year, the memorial included a ceremony and concert, as well as two exhibitions at UN headquarters in New York, titled "Generations: Survival and the Legacy of Hope" and "Architecture of Murder: Auschwitz-Birkenau Blueprints."
At the opening of the latter on Tuesday night, Ban acknowledged the range of architects, engineers, workers and laborers required to build and operate the gas chambers at this "enterprise of death."
"This exhibition delivers a vital message that bears repeating again and again. The Holocaust did not just happen. It was planned," he said.
Speaking during a Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev said: "Today we remember and honor those who struggled, those who perished and those who survived the unmatched evil of the Holocaust."
But speaking at the same regularly scheduled debate on the Middle East, the Palestinian representative, Riyad Mansour, said: "The Palestinian government declared January 27 as the day of solidarity with our prisoners and from this chamber, I'd like to salute the thousands of our heroic prisoners in Israeli jails."
Other UN officials focused on human rights.
"The grotesque nature and scale of the Holocaust is in no way diminished by the passing of time," said Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights.
Elsewhere in New York, others marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Cardinal Edward Egan, who served as Archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009, participated in a "reading of names" of Italian deportees in front of the Italian Consulate.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the names of 8,600 Jews were read by the cardinal, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Rabbi Avi Weiss, among others.
The event, organized by the consulate and the Center for Primo Levi, coincided with a video installation in memory of Italian deportees.
"I'm very close with the Jewish community," Cardinal Egan told The Jerusalem Post.
Speaking at the Park East Synagogue on January 23, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice drew parallels between the Holocaust and recent atrocities.
"The horrors of the recent past demand that we not let the Holocaust be seen as somehow remote or unfathomable," she said. "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."
She said the US was determined in the future to save innocent and vulnerable people.
"We cannot bring back the six million," Rice said. "We can only rededicate ourselves to our shared commitment to human rights," she continued, saying that in wars, there are rules and 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."