Address on the occasion of the commemoration ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Strasbourg, Monday 26 January 2015

Dear colleagues,

It is time to move on to the next agenda item, the commemoration ceremony of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I invite you to look at the screens.

Our warm thanks go to the photo library of the Shoah Memorial in Paris for making these moving images available to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

We have gathered together here, on the eve of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp on 27 January 1945.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a name which evokes over a million personal tragedies, but it is also a symbol.  A symbol of barbaric, but rationally organised, inhumanity, a repugnant manifestation of the trivialisation of evil to which Hannah Arendt referred.  For us, Auschwitz-Birkenau represents a machine for exterminating whole population groups.  The purpose of this machine was to destroy individuals, along with their dignity, their hopes and their history.  The aim was to reduce individuals – men, women and children – to figures, the numbers of dead.

Are human beings capable of such atrocities?  Yes they are.  We have seen that they are.  It was in order to avoid such atrocities that our Organisation was founded in 1949.  Our predecessors understood that only by strengthening democracy and the rule of law and making human rights the supreme value could we prevent any recurrence of such dehumanising and murderous madness.

We must talk about the story of the Holocaust, and it is our duty to continue remembrance work.  But survivors' own accounts are an irreplaceable element of that work.  It is our honour to welcome here today two people who survived that ultimate evil.  Ms Ida Grinspan was a prisoner in the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and she has throughout her life helped to keep remembrance of the Holocaust alive.  Mr Samuel Pisar who should also have testified, was hospitalised yesterday, and will therefore not be with us today.  We welcome his commitment to remembrance work that was recognised on a global scale in 2008 when he was appointed UNESCO Honorary Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust Education.

I belong to the generation born a few years after the war.  We are the direct descendants of those who suffered and laid down their lives for the sake of our freedom.  We now have a duty to pass on the torch of remembrance to the next generations.  Today, we can pass on that remembrance thanks to the personal accounts of survivors who describe their experiences to young people, represented here by pupils from German and French schools, to whom I extend a very warm welcome.  We particularly appreciate the participation in this ceremony of Ms Jane Braden-Goley, President of the European Union of Jewish Students.

Since there can be no substitute for personal accounts by those who lived through the nightmare of the death camps, I give them the floor without any delay.

Ms Grinspan, I invite you to come to the rostrum and address us. [Addresses by the speakers]

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

On behalf of the whole Assembly I would like to thank the speakers for reminding us of what we must not forget.

Today we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau; and we reiterate our commitment to the protection of human rights and human dignity against brutal barbarian cruelty. Let us pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, let us pay tribute to those who fought for our freedom, with a minute of silence.