Holocaust survivors, their families and delegates of their cause flooded the General Assembly hall of the United Nations on Friday, where the international body commemorated the victims of Nazism with a day of remembrance on the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The ceremony opened with a moment of silence followed by a pre-taped message by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who promised that the UN body, founded out of the principles of humanity highlighted by the Holocaust, would “never again” let such an atrocity occur.
But the words of Republic of the Congo Ambassador Raymond Serge Balé subtly challenged the reality of that promise. Over 5,600,000 Congolese have perished since 1998 in war-related deaths, according to an International Rescue Committee report. Balé was only one of two foreign ambassadors from countries other than Israel to speak at the event.
“The Holocaust was a turning point in the history of mankind,” Balé said, calling on the body to remember its founding principles.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor also spoke to the hall, reminding those in attendance that, from the very same venue in which he stood, leaders of nation states have denied a moment in history that included the documented, systematic killing of over 6,000,000 Jews.
“We live in a world filled with prejudice and violence. A world in which anti-Semitism is sponsored, taught and spread by governments, clerics, and schoolteachers,” Prosor said. “Every year, from this very podium, the Iranian president denies the Holocaust while threatening to carry out another one.”
At a breakfast before the ceremony held to honor the day, B’nai B’rith International president Allan J. Jacobs warned that denials will continue as more time passes and more witnesses pass on.
“We know that’s going to happen, ” Jacobs said. “There is certainly a dichotomy that exists. And we’ll continue to fight that in every venue we can, including at the UN.”
Throughout the somber event, which included a cantor’s prayer and a melancholy performance from a chamber ensemble, the loudest moment came in the form of applause at the end of Prosor’s speech.
“From the hills of Jerusalem, to the camps of Treblinka, to the halls of the United Nations,” Prosor stated, “we say—as we have said for hundred generations before us, and our children will say long after us—Am Yisrael Chai. The people of Israel will live.”
One man in attendance, Bernehard Storch, 90, lost his entire family in Nazi concentration camps as he fought in the Polish army, through the re-occupation of Warsaw in 1945.
He comes every year to honor them, he says, wearing the medals he won fighting for their freedoms.
“As President Obama has said, ‘We must tell our children—but more than that, we must teach them. Because remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture,’” quoted US ambassador Susan Rice in a press release. “We cannot bring back the victims of the Shoah. But we can rededicate ourselves to expanding the reach of human decency, human dignity, and human rights—today and all days.”