Remarks at the UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony on the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 31, 2018

AS DELIVERED

Excellencies and honored guests, I’m deeply honored to represent the United States today for this International Day of Commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. Thank you, Under-Secretary Smale, Secretary-General Guterres, and President Lajcak for hosting us here today. I’m also grateful to join Ambassador Danon, and Ambassador Heusgen in speaking to you all.

It is a particular honor to be here today with Mrs. Eva Lavi and Judge Thomas Buergenthal, and all the other survivors and their families, and the World War II veterans who have joined us. You humble us with your presence.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on this year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day, which focuses on education and “the power of words.” During the Holocaust and all mass atrocities that have taken place since, words have played a powerful role in shaping actions. The words of perpetrators have incited violence and hatred, moving ordinary people to act in despicable ways by demonizing and dehumanizing entire populations based on their race, religion, or ethnicity.

The words of vicious hatred that pulsed through Mein Kampf animated the drive to annihilate the Jewish people, just as today the words of the Burmese state media labeling the Rohingya people “human fleas” are used to justify driving them from their homes. The words of ISIS terrorists, requiring that Yazidis and Christians recant their faith or face death are echoes of the similar dark demands from other dark times.

But words also have power to move people to compassion, counter hatred, and see beyond that hate to their shared humanity. As the mother of two school-age children, I’m deeply grateful for the words that allow my children to understand the Holocaust as both a time of terror and a time of heroism. Words that paint a picture of a world that I hope they will never have to live through, and words that help to inculcate them in the values that will help to make it so. Words on the pages of Judge Buergenthal’s memoir, “A Lucky Child” – describing his life and liberation from Auschwitz. And the words he has used as one of the great jurists of our time, to shape our understanding of what it means to live in a world with justice. The words Elie Weisel deployed with beauty and passion to fight for the rights of so many others. The words on Oskar Schindler’s lists that saved Eva Lavi’s life and the lives of hundreds of others who would have otherwise perished along with the six million. The words inscribed in the Pages of Testimony, enshrined in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, to give the six million back their names. These are the words that help new generations to never forget.

We remain indebted, to Holocaust survivors like Eva and Judge Buergenthal, who despite unimaginable trauma, continue to recount their painful experiences so that the passage of time does not lead to the forgetting of what must not be forgotten. It is our duty to remember, to mourn, to grieve, and to honor every single life that was taken so cruelly.

We remember all who were torn apart from everyone they loved, who suffered that terrible darkness and evil, and yet endured – and through this process of remembering, we redouble our conviction to prevent such a tragedy from ever repeating.

We are moved to action by those who put their own life and the lives of their families at risk to help those in need, especially those honored today as the Righteous Among Nations. People who refused to hate despite the hate that was all around them. People who followed their moral compass in an immoral world. In commemorating the Holocaust, we must do our level best to take inspiration from them. In the words of Oskar Schindler, “He who saves a single soul, saves the entire world.”

Today is about remembering the past, but it is also a call to action. We have an obligation to work to prevent atrocities, to respond to mass atrocities when they occur, and to not shy away from ensuring we hold accountable those who commit such atrocities. The United States takes this call to action seriously, and we will continue to work with other countries around the world to call out the perpetrators of such atrocities and those who enable them.

We have a duty to work with countries and partners around the globe to fight bigotry wherever it arises, to confront aggression, insist on truth, uphold the rule of law, and promote respect for the rights and dignity of every human being.

On Monday, President Trump and Ambassador Haley welcomed members of the Security Council to Washington. As part of their visit, they toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington, where they viewed an exhibit called, “Syria: Please don’t forget us.” It was an important reminder of the need for real action to pursue accountability for crimes in Syria.

Exhibits like this, and education around it, are important. We applaud the work of the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme which is spearheading more than 150 Holocaust educational programs in 38 countries this year. These programs are critical to instilling the memory and the deeply relevant lessons of the Holocaust in future generations.

The horrors of the Holocaust remind the world that the safety and freedom of the Jewish people could not be secured without a sovereign, free, and independent Jewish state.

Israel is a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. Through persecution, oppression, death, and destruction, the Jewish people have persevered. They have thrived. We marvel at the faith and resilience of the Jewish people. From the depths of suffering, they have built a mighty nation

As Ambassador Haley has made clear, we are committed to ensuring that the words that are used so often to demonize and attack Israel here at the UN are met with action to defend and support it. We have made some progress, but as Ambassador Danon so eloquently noted, much more work remains to be done to make this a reality. We will continue to speak up and take action to make sure that Israel is treated fairly.

Here at the United Nations, we use a lot of words. Many of them are forgotten as soon as they are uttered or read. They neither create hatred nor spur compassion – they just disappear into a void. My hope is that today will remind us that our words – especially the words “never again” – can have power for good, but only if they are motivated by a recognition of our shared humanity and followed by action. Thank you.

###