The United Nations, which has been called “the leading global purveyor of anti-Semitism,” on Monday will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps.
Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum and memorial, has erected an exhibit in the UN lobby featuring pictures of the death camp at Auschwitz. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and survivor, will address a special session of the General Assembly.“
I want it to be an address that reflects my fears and concerns — our fears and memories,” Wiesel said Monday. “I will be the first non-member of government to address the UN.”
The Nazis forced Wiesel and his family to leave Romania in 1944. They were sent to Auschwitz, where his mother and youngest sister were killed. A year later, Wiesel and his father were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where his father died.
“It seems like it happened yesterday,” Wiesel said. “But then, I belong to a minority; I think about it all the time. It doesn’t disturb our lives, we don’t become morbid, but the memory is there.”
In a statement, Annan said this will be “an important occasion since the United Nations was founded as the world was learning the full horror of the camps.”
Annan said the United Nations is “dedicated to doing everything in its power to protect human dignity and prevent any such horror from happening again.”
In June at the UN’s first seminar on anti-Semitism, Annan said: “In fighting anti-Semitism, we fight for the future of all humanity. We must make this vision a reality while we still have survivors of the Holocaust among us.”
The special session, only the 28th held by the United Nations, was requested by Israel, the United States, Russia, the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, according to Amy Goldstein, director of UN affairs for B’nai B’rith International.
Goldstein said 96 member countries are needed to convene a special session and that more than 110 had signed on by the end of last week. She said B’nai B’rith reached out to more than 150 countries to enlist their support.
The special session comes just four years after the United Nations hosted what observers have called one of the most egregious examples of anti-Semitism — the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Protesting the hate speech and incitement against Jews and Israel, the U.S. and Israeli delegations walked out.
Anne Bayefsky, a Columbia University law professor, told those gathered at the June seminar on anti-Semitism that the world body had “become the leading purveyor of anti-Semitism, intolerance and inequality against the Jewish people and its state.”
Roman Kent, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, a co-sponsor of the UN lobby exhibit, said he welcomed the UN special session because it is “high time for the UN to take some proactive position about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and Zionism.”
“It’s a good thing that they are trying to do something to counter the silence that occurred in the United Nations for a long time,” Kent said. “Maybe it’s a small step going forward, but at least it’s a step.”