Every year around this day, a commitment is reaffirmed that the Holocaust will forever be a “warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice” (UN Resolution) and a promise is renewed that we will not allow genocide to happen again.
Our generation and generations to come have the responsibility to pass on remembrance of the victims and survivors of this enormous tragedy. The systematic murder of six million Jews and the lost lives of countless other victims subjected to the barbarity of the Holocaust can never be forgotten. Nor can Holocaust denial or distortion be accepted.
For many of us, these numbers may be difficult to grasp. Faced with the sheer scale of the horror, there is a danger that we lose sight of the human suffering of the individual victims and survivors. Yet the life, hopes, dreams, identity, and story of an individual lie behind each of the numbers which make up the gruesome statistics of the Holocaust. To truly honour the victims and survivors, we must hold on to our humanity and strongly counter any attempts to other and dehumanise any person or group.
In doing so, we have to act in the knowledge that the Holocaust did not happen without warning. Othering and dehumanisation, and the suppression of critical voices were at the core of the processes which ultimately resulted in deliberate acts aimed at destroying a group of people. Before the death camps, fellow human beings singled out because of who they were suffered harassment, humiliation, the destruction of their homes and of synagogues, segregation, and even imprisonment and murder.
Yet these warning signs were not heeded, and those who deemed themselves unconcerned by the evils of oppression, corruption, and crime turned a blind eye to these escalating steps. Our duty and the duty of future generations is to keep a watchful eye and put a stop to processes which have in the past led to genocide and other atrocities, and to make sure that the conditions under which such processes flourish are not allowed to develop in the first place.
Remembering the Holocaust and honouring the victims means refusing to be bystanders, and taking a firm stand before situations spiral into tragedy. Political will is essential: Council of Europe member states must recommit to our common values of humanity, democracy and equal respect for the rights and dignity of each and every person in our societies and put them into practice, without delay.