UN commemorates 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Events surrounding the commemoration have not been immune to contemporary geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe.

Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Diplomats, historians and NGO leaders spoke about the need to prevent genocide, at an event that the Polish mission to the UN hosted on Wednesday to mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.
Among the speakers at the conference – titled “Why Have We Failed at Preventing Genocide and How to Change That?” – were representatives of four out of the five permanent UN Security Council members (China was absent), the Polish ambassador, and the ambassadors of Israel, Rwanda and Germany.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor opened his address by invoking the recent attacks on the kosher supermarket in France, characterizing them as “the same indifference for Jewish life” that existed 70 years ago.
“Europe is facing a new epidemic of anti-Semitism,” he said, and called out UN member states for not taking a hard enough line against today’s extremists.
“Nations have been reluctant to speak truthfully.
From their ivory towers, they can’t see that extremists are using human rights to abuse human beings and using the media to abuse journalists,” Prosor said.
“Say it like it is,” he continued. “Radical Islamists are the single greatest threat to global peace and security. We all have a responsibility to fight for the values we all believe in. We are not doing enough to stop extremists. The dangers of indifference and consequences of inaction are just too high.”
US Ambassador Samantha Power took a softer line in her speech, saying that the question the conference posed was a question “we cannot ask too often.”
After listing several moves that the UN and US had successfully executed to prevent modern genocides – among them the recent rescue of Yazidis from Islamic State fighters, and the establishment of the International Criminal Court – Power turned to Syria, where she said that seven decades after millions perished in Auschwitz, “we have learned that the Assad regime has meticulously documented the killing of civilians, giving each a serial number and a file.”
British diplomat Mark Lyall Grant said that despite the mechanisms Power had mentioned, “narrowly missing a genocide is not our goal. It is the bare minimum.”
He implored the five permanent Security Council members to “work together with constant vigilance.”
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, meanwhile, reminded the small assembly that it was the Red Army – “a multi-ethnic force with Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians and Armenians” – that had liberated the camps.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that UN diplomats should “reflect how we can better prevent the world from again becoming the setting for the terrible events we saw in the Holocaust, the killing fields in Cambodia, and the genocides we saw in Rwanda and Srebrenica.”
He stated that “we as individuals, as representatives of the UN, and of our member states, must ask ourselves what more we can do, and must consider what we can do differently to build societies where tolerance trumps hatred. We have failed vulnerable populations too many times.”
Wednesday’s event took place in anticipation of a landmark General Assembly conference on Thursday regarding the rising global tide of anti-Semitism, a gathering that is expected to attract hundreds of onlookers and high-profile speakers. Diplomats are expected to encourage greater international cooperation and a call to strengthen domestic law enforcement mechanisms to protect local Jewish institutions.
Ahead of Thursday’s event, an official from the US Mission to the UN told reporters that the recent attacks in Paris “underscore how critical it is for the United Nations to acknowledge and speak to the rising scourge of intolerance and anti-Semitism across Europe and around the world.”
The official said anti-Semitism was a “global human rights issue.”
On Tuesday, the Israeli mission released a video showing small children from all over the world trying and failing to pronounce the word “anti-Semitism.” The video finishes with the message, “Let’s create a world where they won’t need to use this word.”
Said Prosor, “No one is born being anti-Semitic.
It is taught, just like racism and any other form of bigotry. Anti-Semitism can be cured with education.
If we can succeed in teaching children around the world coexistence and tolerance, we will succeed in eradicating anti-Semitism.”
The upcoming General Assembly session was scheduled after 38 countries sent a letter to the GA president, calling on the UN to respond to the global outbreak of violent anti-Semitism.