Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
27 January 2020
Seventy-five years ago, the 100th and 322nd divisions of the Soviet Army’s “1st Ukrainian Front” reached the Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, whose very name symbolizes the barbarism of the killing centres and concentration camps.
Almost one million men, women and children were killed there because they were Jewish, mostly as soon as they arrived. Tens of thousands of Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, political opponents and other persecuted people were interned there or died there. In total, the Nazis murdered 1,100,000 people at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Birkenau, with its industrialized system of killing, represents the culmination of the Nazi’s criminal enterprise. In the name of a racist and anti-Semitic ideology, people of all ages were deemed unworthy of living and were systematically murdered on a continental scale. To these victims without burial, for whom oblivion would be a second condemnation, UNESCO wishes to pay tribute on this day of commemoration.
First, through the indispensable work on remembrance; and second, through commitment to action.
It is thus our duty to fight against speeches, wherever they are made, that seek to deny the existence of the Holocaust, that minimize its scale, or that attempt to absolve the murderers and their accomplices of their crimes.
It is also our duty, here and now, to prevent the resurgence of genocide and mass violence, because although the Nazis were defeated, neither anti-Semitism nor racism are dead. They continue to claim lives, minorities continue to be discriminated against and persecuted for their religion, origin or culture, and civilian populations continue to be the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
It is precisely the role of UNESCO to make every effort to improve public awareness, strengthen intellectual defences, in a word, educate – because people are not born anti-Semitic, people are not born racist, they become so.
It is our collective duty to respond vigorously against the manipulation of culture and the instrumentalization of education, which is misused to indoctrinate or incite hatred, and to promote knowledge about other cultures and strengthen critical thinking and mutual respect.
Preventing irreparable harm, preparing new generations for a safer and more peaceful future – this is the mission that UNESCO was entrusted with 70 years ago and which continues, more than ever, to inspire us.