UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday the fate of the victims of the Holocaust should remind the world to be vigilant against racism and keep in check the "bigots" denying the extermination of the Jews during World War II.
"The fate of the victims of the Holocaust should be a warning for all of us that we live in a world where ... you have modernism mixed with barbarism and we should be vigilant in trying to ensure in that what happened is never repeated," Annan told reporters after meeting with Holocaust survivors in Zurich.
Daniel Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the UN currently holding the rotating vice-presidency of the body, addressed the diplomats and guests gathered for the UN's main commemoration ceremony in New York.
The guests, Holocaust survivors and their offspring, greeted Gillerman with roaring applause as he said "there will always be an Israel."
The meeting was held to commemorate the liberation of Nazi death camps on Jan. 27, 1945 and to mark the first "International Holocaust Remembrance Day."
Annan called on individuals and governments to counter the "bigots" denying the Holocaust. "There are bigots today that deny ... that the unique experience of the Holocaust occurred and that should be countered. You start with humiliations, you start with racism, you demean the other and before you know it has moved on to incredible levels," he said.
Kurt Julius Goldstein, a 91-year old German who spent 30 months in the Auschwitz concentration camp, said he survived thanks to Polish miners who smuggled a sandwich for him every night. "It is due to their solidarity that I am still alive." Goldstein said he enjoyed exchanging some of his feelings with Annan.
Marian Turski, an 83-year old Polish survivor, said the friendship and tight discipline between 10 camp members helped him survive. After losing his glasses - usually a death sentence in the camps - each of his friends gave up a third of his meager daily bread ration to bribe camp guards for a pair of replacement glasses.
The commemoration comes just four days after Iran said it would follow through with plans to organize a conference on what it terms the "scientific evidence" for the Holocaust.
The planned conference, which has drawn condemnation from Western leaders, is yet another step in hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public campaign against Israel.
Ahmadinejad has called the Nazis' World War II slaughter of 6 million European Jews a "myth," and said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
Without mentioning Iran by name, Annan said in a statement, "we must reject their false claims whenever, wherever and by whomever they are made."
Last year, the UN General Assembly commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps with a special session, a stark change for a body that was often reluctant to address the extermination of the Jews during World War II.