Welcome Address by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for the Leipzig Online Plenary Meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

02.12.2020 - Speech

(Video message)

140 empty bronze chairs on a large square. They are marking a painful void - the location of Leipzig’s former synagogue, destroyed in 1938.

And the number 140 is no coincidence. When you spell it in Hebrew, it means “to stand up”.

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

You are standing up. Against antisemitism. Against discrimination. And against denial and distortion of the Holocaust.

In times of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is particularly important. In isolation, survivors often relive their traumas. Every kind gesture makes a difference. Every effort to commemorate counts.

At the same time, the pandemic serves as a breeding ground for antisemitic hate and conspiracy theories. It is true, they have never been wiped out. But now, they are being spread even more openly on our streets and on the internet. It is unbearable to see how coronavirus protesters are making use of Nazi symbols and language. And we must not tolerate it when they compare themselves to the victims of Nazi terror, or to those who fought bravely against this brutal regime. We owe that to every victim and every survivor.

A recent study shows how right‑wing groups are using the pandemic to strengthen their international networks. It is high time that our security agencies do the same. They must work closer together to fight right‑wing extremism and antisemitism more effectively.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These developments highlight how essential the IHRA’s work is. With your support, we have initiated a Global Task Force against Holocaust Distortion. And I am counting on all of your support when it releases its new recommendations in January next year.

The IHRA has made a difference before. Our working definition of antisemitism has raised awareness. And I hope that our new working definition of antigypsyism/ anti‑Roma discrimination will do the same. Thank you for your efforts to adopt it under difficult working conditions!

I know that many of your institutions have been affected by the pandemic. Memorials lack visitors. Museums are fighting for their survival. In many countries, the future of Holocaust education and research is on the line. Now it is up to us, as governments, to uphold our commitments. Our future as democratic and inclusive societies depends on it.

The best way to do so is to treat the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new ways of remembrance. Making memorials and testimonies virtually accessible is a lasting investment in the future. And Holocaust education can benefit from technological progress, if we want to reach the young, digital generation. Here, the IHRA can play a unique role by setting international standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It would have been an honour to welcome you to Leipzig in person. But instead of regretting that the chairs in our meeting rooms are empty, we could look at them the same way we look at the empty chairs at Leipzig’s Holocaust Memorial: As a call to stand up.
Against antisemitism. Against discrimination. Against the denial and distortion of the Holocaust. Every day.

Thank you!


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