By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres while remembering victims of the holocaust today said the holocaust was not inevitable as no genocide ever is.
Speaking in his remarks to mark the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the holocaust, held January 27 annually, he said “We remember the six million Jewish children, women, and men, as well as the Roma and Sinti, the people with disabilities, and countless others who perished”.
We reflect on the millions of individual lives cut short; the millions of futures stolen away. As we mourn the loss of so many and so much, we also recognize that the Holocaust was not inevitable. No genocide ever is.
It was the culmination of millennia of antisemitic hate. The Nazis could only move with calculated cruelty from the discrimination of Europe’s Jews to their annihilation because so few stood up, and so many stood by.
He noted that it was a period of deafening silence – both at home and abroad – that emboldened them. ”The alarm bells were ringing from the very beginning, Hate speech and disinformation, Contempt for human rights and the rule of law, the glorification of violence and tales of racial supremacy, and disdain for democracy and diversity.
The Secretary-General said in remembering the Holocaust, we recognize threats to freedom, dignity, and humanity – including in our own time. Today – in the face of growing economic discontent and political instability, escalating white supremacist terrorism, and surging hate and religious bigotry – we must be more outspoken than ever.
He urged the world to “never forget – nor allow others to ever forget, distort or deny the Holocaust. Today and every day, let us resolve to never again remain silent in the face of evil – and to always defend the dignity and rights of all.
In his remarks, the UN Resident Coordinator, Matthias Schmale said “Today, we mourn the loss of so many and so much during the horrors of World War Two. We reflect on man’s inhumanity to man and renew our promise of ‘Never Again’.
We do this each year on January 27th to commemorate the date when Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated in 1945. Of the liberators arriving in the camp, the writer and survivor Primo Levi has said that they “felt guilt that such a crime should exist.” These soldiers of the Red Army saw first-hand the shocking sights of a camp designed for the systematic annihilation of a people.
In this dark shadow of the Holocaust, the United Nations was established to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and its untold sorrows. The UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Genocide Convention enshrined a commitment to peace, dignity, and rights.
Noting that these principles remain essential today. They are reflected in the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was a commendable initiative of the state of Israel, established through the UN General Assembly resolution 60/7 eighteen years ago.
He said the resolution is dual purpose, first to honour the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and second to ensure that younger generations know the history and apply the lessons of the Holocaust to the world of today.
The hope is that by remembering the past, we can safeguard the future, and help prevent further acts of genocide. We must listen to and learn from the aging survivors. As another great writer and Auschwitz survivor, Elie Wiesel has noted “whoever listens to a witness, becomes a witness.”
While noting that the world today is witnessing an alarming resurgence of xenophobia and hate as no society is immune to irrationality or intolerance, he called on Nigerians to be watchful in view of the forthcoming elections
“In Nigeria, with national elections imminent, we must be watchful for any upsurge in hate speech and disinformation, particularly if tensions were to rise between political, regional, or ethnic groups. We must be vigilant because words can be weaponised and lead to physical harm. From historical experience, we know that atrocities have been preceded by hate speech. The Holocaust is, of course, the starkest example of this. But the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica also serve as warnings to us.
Hate speech is a threat to our cherished values, to the cohesion of our societies, and to the lives of our most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Undoubtedly, the internet and social media have supercharged such risks. We need to strengthen the resilience of our young people against the ideologies of hatred and educate them on the dangers of disinformation.
I call on all stakeholders in Nigerian society to stand up and speak out against instances of hate speech and discrimination. Each of us can play a role in countering this scourge and ensuring that all people enjoy the protections and rights for which the United Nations stands. On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us honour the memory of its victims by heeding the lessons of history and pledging to always be vigilant in upholding human rights and dignity for all.
The Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Michael Freeman in an impassioned speech, recalled that 78 years back, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated and 7000 people in the camp were saved that day. He, however, regretted that unfortunately for six million men, women, and children, it was too late. it was also too late for the many PWDs, and LGBTQ who were persecuted as undesirable by the Nazis.
“Six million people is a number that is beyond comprehension, very difficult to understand, we can try to imagine that number but ultimately, it is a number that is really beyond comprehension, and the only way to understand this is through individual stories, to talk about those people that were affected. To think about the stories of one of those people, one of those children. The entire world of theirs was destroyed, taken away, wiped out, the future generation in an instant when they were taken into the gas chambers, murdered shot or whatever else happened to them throughout the time of the Nazis holocaust”.