People around the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of January. In the United Nations, the parliament of nations, we commemorated this solemn day with a ceremony in the General Assembly hall.
While more nations of the world join us every year to pledge to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, recently too many countries in Europe have taken steps to alter, or even deny, their countries’ role in the worst crimes against humanity our world has ever seen. While the passage of bills and other initiatives may reflect an attempt to bolster national pride and identity, they have sparked widespread criticism and an increased focus on the very issue of complicity these governments have sought to avoid.
The State of Israel is deeply grateful for our supporters around the world, especially those in European countries who have a history of anti-Semitism but today stand by the side of the Jewish state. We have an obligation, however, first and foremost, to protect the horrific truths of the Holocaust and its survivors. Preserving history, in its fullest and truest form, must not be mistaken as an assault on another nation or its citizens today. It must not be misunderstood as an attempt to isolate or humiliate another people. Instead, it represents our commitment never to tolerate the whitewashing of history for any reason, especially when the Holocaust is involved.
During my address to the UN, I presented an action plan for prevention – a roadmap for grappling with the kinds of dangers posed by this type of legislation. The pillars of that plan would include Days of Remembrance, survivor testimonies and education of every kind, so that leaders around the world would have the tools to guide their citizens through the painful chronicles of humanity’s darkest moments.
As a democracy, Israel is committed to truth and to the core principle of freedom of speech. We understand the dark consequences that come about when a nation tries to curtail free speech and suppress the truth. The notion that a Holocaust survivor could risk criminal prosecution for sharing his or her story of survival is abhorrent to us, as it should be to every civilized country in the world. To stay silent in the face of such danger signals our own complicity in the falsification of history and in a new form of Holocaust denial. We will never stand for this type of normalization of evil.
Instead, we offer another approach – educate, share, expose. A situation like this presents an opportunity to teach the Holocaust with more vigor than ever, because it shows the world that the lessons of the Holocaust still have not been fully absorbed, even after all these years. We must describe, sometimes even in graphic detail, the horrific accounts of entire towns that murdered their Jewish populations, with whom they had lived and worked for centuries. We must recount the rewards the Nazis gave to individual citizens of the many countries they occupied for turning in their Jewish neighbors. We must share the story of their police forces waiting eagerly outside the ghettoes for the opportunity to murder Jews attempting to flee to safety.
Finally, we must remind countries and their leaders of the responsibility to teach the Holocaust, not from a place of accusation, but from a place of honesty. We owe it to ourselves and to those who bravely stood up against their communities to save the Jews from death to reveal these historical truths. They cannot be silenced now.
As we progress toward what we hope will be a more peaceful and tolerant future, we must vow, for the sake of our young people, never to pass laws that attempt to distort, deny or deform the responsibility of individuals, communities, cities and nations of the past for the tragedy of the Holocaust.
Many of the countries that partook or were complacent in the atrocities of the Holocaust are among Israel’s strongest and most devoted champions, including at the United Nations. These countries are living proof that nations can transform their darkest moments into their lightest horizons. But we must never allow anyone to let the world forget the depths of evil from which that transformation was necessary. We will never be silenced in our efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust and its millions of victims alive.
Danny Danon is Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.