Dear Rabbi Schneier, allow me to first pay tribute to the Holocaust survivors that are with us today. We are humbled and honored to have you here, albeit not in person, but in this virtual setting.
Excellencies, Secretary-General, distinguished guests, dear friends,
Last year, we commemorated the 75th day of liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was honored to attend the memorial service at the Park East Synagogue with you, and to speak at the commemoration ceremony at the General Assembly. I am still deeply moved when I think about Irene Shashar’s account of her memories from the Warsaw Ghetto, hiding in sewers and finally finding refuge in Peru.
We mark this year’s 76th Holocaust Remembrance Day in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the multiple social and economic crises it has brought about. While we cannot yet comprehend or foresee their full impact, we know that these crises have fueled prejudices, strengthened conspiracy theories and ignited hatred. As history shows us, this sets a dangerous ground for anti-Semitism to grow.
Yet, the pandemic is not the reason for this increase in hate. In recent years, there has been a rise of anti-Semitic crimes worldwide. Also within Europe and my own country, Germany. Hate speech and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories spread faster than ever by the use of social media and new online platforms. This is a real danger, as this can result in physical and mental harm. I am thinking of the egregious attack on a synagogue in the German town of Halle during Yom Kippur 2019, which resulted in two deaths. On 21 December 2020, the perpetrator of this heinous crime received the maximum sentence of life in prison by a German court, not only for murder and attempted murder, but also for Holocaust denial and incitement of the people.
As daunting as the overall developments sound: This is one example to show how democratic institutions and the rule of law can counter the rise of anti-Semitism, in Germany and in the world. Remembrance, research and education are among the many other safeguards we have to have in place.
Anti-Semitism often starts with Holocaust denial or its distinction. With fewer and fewer living memories of the Holocaust every year, its deniers will try to benefit by changing the historic facts of these horrific crimes. We cannot allow this to happen. This is precisely why commemorative days such as the Holocaust Remembrance Day are of such importance.
As Germans, we carry our responsibility for history and this responsibility will never lessen. As I said last year in the UN General Assembly, “We will protect Jewish life and we will stand by Israel. This is our highest duty and part of our national identity and it is part of our commitment to democracy and human rights.” The cruel crimes committed by the Nazi regime are undeniable. We cannot let anybody distort historical facts. This is also, what Germany will defend during our elected two-year presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In this role, we have published recommendations to strengthen awareness of distortion and ways to better identify and respond to these.
However, we cannot do this alone. Anti-Semitism remains a global challenge and requires a global response. We have to stand together and address it through common efforts and international cooperation. This is what the United Nations stand for.
Together, let us remember today, in order to fight the persistent forces of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and distortion tomorrow.