Every time I talk with Holocaust survivors or their descendants, there’s one word that always makes me shiver. A word that shakes you to the core. It’s the word “again” - as used by survivors or their descendants to describe the current developments in politics and society. Like Sally Perel, „Hitlerjunge Salomon“, who said already two years ago: “It’s starting again.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is the most devastating sentence I can imagine. “Again” is a word we simply cannot accept in this context. It contradicts the vision we share here at IHRA: “A world that remembers the Holocaust - a world without genocide.” It also contradicts one of the guiding principles in German foreign policy: Never again!
And yet, it is impossible to contradict the survivor’s assessment.
- The attacks by right-wing terrorists in German cities like Hanau, Halle and Kassel tell the deadly story of growing racism and antisemitism all too clearly.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to crude conspiracy theories and hate against minorities that remind us of the darkest times of the Middle Ages.
- And even the Holocaust itself is misused as a crude comparison with the current situation.
We cannot and we will not accept this. In our 2020 Ministerial Declaration we pledged to fight antisemitism, antigypsyism and all forms of racism and discrimination. It is time to follow our words with deeds.
- A crucial step is to counter Holocaust distortion in all its forms. To advance our joint work, we have this year established a Global Task Force Against Holocaust Denial and Distortion.
- This is important because we can only fight antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion if we clearly identify them. IHRA has done tremendous work in this regard by adopting concrete working definitions.
- We should do the same by adopting a working definition of antigypsyism. And my hope is to finish this important work as soon as possible during the German Presidency. It is high time to put a spotlight on how vulnerable the largest European minority
- still is.
- 2020 is a year of remembrance. 75 years after the liberation of the concentration and death camps, it is a special responsibility for us Germans to keep the survivors’ memory alive. In the coming years, many of them will no longer be with us to tell us their story.
This is why places of learning, like museums and memorial sites and archives will become ever more important. And we will continue to support IHRA’s essential work in this regard.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with humility, but also with great joy that we chair our organisation during this year of remembrance. If it had not been for COVID-19, I would have been glad to welcome you as our guests, here in Berlin. The city where almost every corner reminds us of what happens when an entire country follows the path of hate.
It started with words. Words that fuel prejudice and lead to violence - back then as much as today. The only recipe against this is to raise our voices against discrimination and hate. Just like the millions of people around the world who stood up in peaceful protest after the racist killing of George Floyd.
Their protests can remind all of us to live up to our commitments.
The commitment to make sure that the word “again” does not stand alone when talking about the greatest crime in human history. But that it becomes a clear and resolute “Never again!” Never again to antisemitism, antigypsyism, racism and hate.
Thank you all for joining us! And keep up your important work! I wish you a successful and inspiring Meeting!
Video of the opening speech