At Manhattan Synagogue Holocaust Commemoration, UN Secretary-General Decries ‘Global Crisis of Antisemitic Hatred’
The United Nations Secretary General marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at a Manhattan synagogue on Saturday, vowing to fight antisemitism around the world and pledging, “We will never forget.”
Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the Park East Synagogue’s Annual International Holocaust Remembrance service, this year marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The event included diplomats and military officials of the nations whose forces liberated the concentration camps.
“Solidarity in the face of hatred is needed more than ever, as we are seeing a worrying resurgence in antisemitic attacks, here in New York and around the world,” Guterres said. “We need to name this phenomenon for what it is: a global crisis of antisemitic hatred; a constant stream of attacks targeting Jews, their institutions and property.”
“Almost every day brings new reports of hate crimes,” he noted. “Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are resurgent, organizing themselves and spreading their poisonous ideology and iconography online. The internet, from social media to online gaming platforms and the dark web, is their playground and their recruiting office. They manipulate video content and poison young minds.”
“The most important lesson is that the Holocaust was not an aberration committed at a particular moment in history by a few unspeakably sick people,” Gueterres asserted. “It was the culmination of millennia of hatred, from the Roman Empire to the pogroms of the Middle Ages.”
“My own country, Portugal, committed an act of utter cruelty and stupidity by expelling its Jewish population in the fifteenth century,” he noted.
“As the great writer Hannah Arendt said, most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil,” Guterres said. “As we work to live up to the promise of ‘Never again,’ we need to examine our own prejudices; guard against the misuse of our own technology; and be alert to any signs that hatred is being normalized.”
“Our prevention efforts must also guard against the corruption of language,” he said. “Euphemisms and coded expressions cannot be allowed to hide bigoted ideas or crimes.”
“Words can kill. The Holocaust began with words,” he noted.
“Today, as our values come under attack from all sides, we reaffirm them with greater conviction than ever,” Gueterres said. “We will never forget.”
Park East’s Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a Holocaust survivor himself, commented, “Just as the Allies in WWII brought about the defeat of the Nazis, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France must take the lead in fighting Holocaust denial and the new epidemic of antisemitism and the destruction of Houses of Worship.”
“We must learn from the horrors of the Holocaust that hateful speech is just the first step in an attack on humanity and men and women of all faiths and nations must stand together in 2020 to guarantee the safety and human rights of all,” he asserted.
Colonel Justin Sapp, Military Advisor of the United States Mission to the United Nations, also spoke, referring to Albert Einstein’s claim that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” and asserting that one of the reasons for the Holocaust was the world’s inability to imagine something so horrendous could occur.
Speaking of the Allied soldiers who liberated the concentration camps, he said, “Never in their wildest imagination had they ever contemplated that they would witness such barbarity being visited on their fellow human beings.”
“I would submit to all of us in attendance today … that we may need to update — to refresh — Dr. Einstein’s famous quote about imagination and knowledge,” he said. “Let us no longer say that imagination is more important than knowledge, but rather that knowledge must inform imagination — we must not forget the terrible knowledge of the events of the Holocaust, and indeed should take that knowledge to imagine how such a calamity might occur again.”
“It’s only through imagining such abhorrent possibilities that we can prepare ourselves to stop such possibilities from moving from the realm of imagination to the realm of reality,” he asserted.
“This, I submit to you, is the message we must take away from the horrors of the Holocaust that first came to light to my country, America, 75 years ago: Never again,” Sapp said.
“Never again will we dismiss the ‘unthinkable’ as ‘impossible,’” he pledged. “Never again will we allow the limits of our imagination to lull us into complacency. Never again will we take for granted the limits of the horrors people can and do inflict on others. Never again.”