Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres delivers a keynote address at the 81st Anniversary Commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York. Credit: UN/Antonio Ferrari. - Photo: 2019

Holocaust Is Not Long Ago and Not Far Away

Viewpoint by António Guterres

Following are extensive extracts from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ speech on 7 November 2019 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York which was marking the 81st anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom carried out by the Nazi regime. Underlining his continued fight to stamp out antisemitism, racism and other forms of hatred, he accentuated that since nobody is born to hate, intolerance can be prevented and unlearned.

NEW YORK (IDN-INPS) – Kristallnacht was not just the night of broken glass; it was the night of broken lives, broken families, broken societies, broken dreams.

And, as we know, that dreadful night of state-orchestrated terror was followed by days, months and years of incalculable horror, so tragically and movingly displayed here.

An exhibition as powerful as the one we have seen about Auschwitz this truly stays with you — and it has indeed stayed very deeply with me since I first came here to experience it six months ago.

It calls on us to witness. And it summons us to speak. After all, “Never again” means telling the story again and again – especially in these times.

As the title of the exhibit reminds us, hatred, antisemitism and the Holocaust are: “Not long ago. Not far away.”

I feel this personally, having grown up in Europe in the aftermath of the continent’s descent into depravity — and knowing that centuries earlier, my own country had reached its own depths of discrimination by expelling the country’s Jews in an act of utter cruelty. And by the way, it was not an act of utter cruelty, that made so many people suffer terribly it was a total stupidity.

Portugal has paid an enormous price for it with the lack of development and countries like the Netherlands, to where many Jews from Portugal left after a long circuit, has enormously benefited from their contribution. And one of the most emotional moments of my life was my first visit to what we call the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam — and for those who have not been there, I strongly recommend a visit, it’s a wonderful building of the 17th century — and I had the chance to go there as the Prime Minister of Portugal to present the law we’ve just approved to revoke the edict of expulsion of the 16th century; but I was dramatically impressed by the fact the synagogue was empty.

The same Jewish community that has been expelled by Portugal was completely eliminated by Nazism during the Second World War, which proves that anti-Semitism goes on and on, repeating itself in history in several and tragic ways.

I also feel it keenly today as head of an Organization dedicated to preventing genocide and other grave crimes, who sees and hears — as you do —chilling daily reminders of the persistence of antisemitism, the resurgence of Nazi slogans and symbols, and the growing menace of white supremacy groups and other forms of intolerance.

So it is right and necessary that we gather tonight to remember the Holocaust and the events that took place on November 9th and 10th in 1938.

A member of my team that is here with us today, recently told me that his father, at age 16, was trapped outside on that evening, in Leipzig, on his way home, as violence began to swirl around him.

He moved furtively, from doorway to doorway, as the mobs grew larger.

And he went slowly, from street to street, as the flames shot higher, consuming Jewish shops, houses and temples.

He made it home safely but shaken. His family had been in Germany for many years, prosperous and assimilated. Hitler had seemed to them an aberration, and even a buffoon, at least when heard on the radio.

Five months later, this young man and his immediate family escaped Germany altogether, ending up in the United States and I’m very happy I can work with his son.

But his wider circle of relatives was not so fortunate; dozens perished in the death camps.

So, this exhibition truly is not just an exercise in looking back, it helps us to assess our present, and to recognize the need for continued vigilance.

In recent months alone, across the world, we have seen the vandalization of Jewish graves, the defacement of a Holocaust memorial, the burning of a yeshiva and the spread of vile propaganda about Jews.

And of course, it is just over a year since the worst antisemitic attack in the history of the United States, at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I was proud to take part in an inter-faith show of solidarity at a temple here in New York in the days immediately afterwards.

Decades after the Holocaust, the world’s oldest hatred is still with us.

Other forms of intolerance are also taking a deadly toll, from bombings at churches to massacres at mosques to assaults on migrants and refugees.

Hatred kills.

But hatred also works in insidious ways to undermine relations between people and the foundations of society.

In their quest for power, some political leaders are cynically bringing the loathsome views of extremist groups into the mainstream. We see this in authoritarian regimes and liberal democracies alike.

The online world has proven to be a boon for bigotry and violent misogyny.

Terrorists and neo-Nazis are ramping up recruitment and radicalization.

They are as shrewd as any Madison Avenue marketer.

They are as technologically savvy as any modern teenager. Indeed, in so many cases teenagers are their #1 prey.

These groups post videos on the latest platforms and apps — often specifically designed to lure in often unwitting young people.

Their messages are filled with false promises of glory, and with real incitement targeting some of society’s most vulnerable people.

Parents, teachers, political leaders – we must all act with urgency before underground hatred becomes an overt and alarming new normal.

And the United Nations is fully engaged in this fight.

In June, I launched a United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action to confront and address hate speech, using our convening power, our human rights mechanisms, and our work for peaceful, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Education must be a key part of this preventive approach, and I am announcing today that I intend to convene a conference on the role of education in addressing and building resilience against hate speech.

We are also focusing on the protection of religious sites in the wake of deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand, the Easter church bombings in Sri Lanka and other assaults.  Just last month in Germany, a gunman killed two people while trying to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

The pagoda-like structure of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. 
CC BY-SA 3.0 >

Two months ago, working with my High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, I launched a plan of action to support Member States in ensuring that worshipers can observe their rituals in peace. Houses of worship around the world must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror.

And last month, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief presented his latest report, underscoring that antisemitism is “toxic to democracy and the mutual respect of citizens”.

And of course, the United Nations and the Holocaust Outreach Programme continues its work around the world with educational institutions, Yad Vashem and indeed with this Museum of Jewish Heritage.

And the imperative of equality and human dignity will also underpin next year’s observance of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

Across this work, young people must be at the centre.

Tomorrow at United Nations Headquarters, 100 high school students and their teachers will attend a workshop on the impact of the Holocaust on young people.  I hope this exercise will inspire them to do even more to challenge hatred, antisemitism and defend human rights.

People are not born to hate; intolerance is learned and so can be prevented and unlearned.

I will continue to call out antisemitism, racism and other forms of hatred.

The exhibition we have seen – “Not long ago. Not far away” – compels us to work in the here and now to safeguard and uphold universal values for all. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 November 2019]

Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres delivers a keynote address at the 81st Anniversary Commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York. Credit: UN/Antonio Ferrari.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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