Message of the UN Resident Coordinator on the 2019 Holocaust Remembrance

Mr. Ola Almgren says, "Holocaust denial is not just unconscionable; it is an assault on our collective memory. Thus, he enjoins people vow never to forget."

The United Nations was founded in 1945, at the end of the second world with the explicit purpose (as expressed by our founding mothers and fathers in the first paragraph of our Charter) “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”. And, in the second paragraph of the Charter “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”.

The United Nations went on to formulate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 – celebrating its 70th anniversary last year and today, amongst other distinctions, being the most translated document in the world. The Universal Declaration picks up from the UN Charter and in its first article states “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Again, with the fresh memory World War II in mind and the consequences of not acting in this manner.

Among all the horrors that were inflicted on humankind in the course of World War II, and preceding it in World War I, none was committed with such chilling and evil calculation as the one inflicted on the Jewish People. The systematic murder of six million Jews that became known as the Holocaust.

You just heard me quote the UN Charter and say “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”. Twice in our lifetime. The problem is that that was three generations ago, and as memory fades, the chances of history repeating itself grow.

So let me say a few words about memories.

We sometimes have an ambivalent relationship with our memories. Some, we would like to hold on to for as long as possible because they are happy, pleasant memories. Others, may feel too painful to revisit and we push them away.

We treasure the moments that bring us joy, pride, a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction. But we sometimes suppress the memories that bring pain. Even to the point, that sometimes we allow ourselves to be persuaded that what caused the painful memory perhaps never even happened. And that the measures that we put in place to prevent the repetition of the event behind those memories are therefore not needed

And we become easy prey for the mongers of untruths, of fear, and who for their own reasons would rather have us believe that the restrictions imposed on our darkest instincts, such as in the rules based international order created through the United Nations, or as those articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are against our real interest (in reality theirs) when the absolute opposite is true. It’s just that we don’t remember…

At no time have we been so vulnerable to this as in these days of “fake news” and fabricated stories washing over us through the manipulation of social media.

So, it is perhaps easy to understand that the theme of this year’s holocaust remembrance is “Demand and Defend Your Human Rights”.

This theme is meant to encourage youth to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust, act against discrimination and defend democratic values, at a time when the emergence of Neo-Nazism and hate groups fuels rising antisemitism and other forms of hatred in many places around the world. The theme highlights the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Holocaust denial is not just unconscionable; it is an assault on our collective memory. Holocaust deniers would have us question the evidence found in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, the proof recorded in volumes of documentation, and most of all, the recollection of the survivors.

The United Nations is at the forefront of battling this historical revisionism.

Rejecting any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/60/7) by consensus condemning "without reserve" all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur.

The resolution declared that the United Nations would designate 27 January -- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp -- as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and urged Member States to develop educational programmes to instill the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again.

The Holocaust was a turning point in history, which prompted the world to say "never again". The significance of the General Assembly resolution (A/RES/60/7) is that it calls for a remembrance of past crimes with an eye towards preventing them in the future.

I welcome the initiative by the Embassy of Israel in Manila, together with my colleagues in the United Nations Information Centre, to dedicate the 2019 International Holocaust remembrance to an analysis of Holocaust denial, what is the agenda behind it, and what forms it is taking in the world today.

I thank our Filipino historians, Mr. Manuel L. Quezon III and Dr. Augusto de Viana, for giving us their time today to help young people to understand the roots and motivations of Holocaust denial, in order to encourage them to discuss it and counter it whenever and wherever they encounter it.

In ending, allow me to quote former president of Israel Shimon Peres. He said, "Six million of our people live on in our hearts. We are their eyes that remember. We are their voice that cries out. The dreadful scenes flow from their dead eyes to our open ones. And those scenes will be remembered exactly as they happened.”

Let us remember this and vow never to forget. Because no matter what people say, no matter how much time passes, no one can change this Undeniable Truth.

Speech by
Ola Almgren
Former UN Resident Coordinator of the Philippines
Ola Almgren
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Fund for Agricultural Development
International Labor Organization
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
World Health Organization