António Guterres on Kristallnacht: Chilling daily reminders of antisemitism
Ambassador Danny Danon said, “We know that it might happen again,” about the Holocaust.
By HALEY COHENAntónio Guterres used the podium at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Lower Manhattan to speak out about the need for “continued vigilance” against rising hatred and intolerance.The secretary-general of the United Nations was at the museum on Thursday to commemorate the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, which is Nov. 9 and 10. Close to 300 people were in attendance.“Kristallnacht was not just the night of broken glass, it was the night of broken lives and broken societies,” Guterres said. “This museum calls on us to witness and summons us to speak.“Never again means telling the story again and again, especially in these times,” he continued, citing recent incidents targeting Jews, which he called “chilling daily reminders of the persistence of antisemitism.” He specifically referenced repeated vandalization of Jewish graves and the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which took place in October of last year.The secretary-general said that terrorists and neo-Nazis are ramping up recruitment and radicalization, and that they use the Internet as a tool to spread bigotry. He said online efforts are specifically targeted at luring in young and vulnerable people. Guterres called for urgent action by parents, teachers and political leaders “before underground hatred becomes an overt and alarming new normal.”He then assured the crowd that the UN is “fully engaged in this fight.”Guterres, who served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015 and the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, said that he feels a personal connection to Jews because of his experience growing up in Portugal and learning that centuries earlier his country had expelled the Jewish people under what he referred to as “total stupidity.”“Portugal has paid an enormous price for their total stupidity in the expulsion of Jews,” Guterres said. “The Jews who were expelled provided enormous contributions [in their new homes].”The ceremony commenced with the blowing of the only known surviving shofar from Auschwitz, which was smuggled out of the concentration camp in 1945, sounded by Rabbi Eli Babich of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Ambassador Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations; George Klein, vice chairman of the Museum of Jewish Heritage; and Phyllis Heideman, president of the March of the Living, spoke as well.Danon echoed Guterres’s warning on the dangers of rising antisemitism.“Anyone who has viewed the exhibit in this museum has become a witness [of the Holocaust],” Danon said. “Witnesses have an obligation to speak up because the past can repeat itself.“Tonight we are remembering what happened on Kristallnacht,” he continued. “It is important not only because of the destruction that night, but also what is happening now. We know that it might happen again.”Among audience members were a dozen Holocaust survivors, including media personality Ruth Westheimer.The Museum of Jewish Heritage, two miles from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, is the third largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America. The museum has incorporated the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” which features artifacts from more than 20 international museums and institutions. Items include suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz.The exhibition is scheduled to run through August 30, 2020.