Speech

Address by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Auschwitz Day, January 27, 2003

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Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year, the Government decided to introduce an annual day in commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and genocide, as was agreed by the Heads of State and Government at a Holocaust Conference in Stockholm in 2000.

The Government decided that the commemoration should take place on 27 January, the day that marks the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and thus the beginning of the end of one of the very darkest chapters of European history. Therefore Auschwitz Day.

As is well known, Auschwitz was not the only extermination camp operated by the Nazis during World War II. However, to posterity, this concentration camp has become the symbol of ultimate evil, which resulted in the murder of millions of innocent people. To people today, the scope of the tragedy and of the atrocities is incomprehensible.

With Auschwitz Day, we wish to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and other cases of genocide. Through schools, establishments of education and general public education, we wish to foster consciousness of the lesson we may learn from these tragedies.

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On Auschwitz Day, we wish not only to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It is also a day to commemorate the tragic cases of genocide that have taken place, and are still taking place in other parts of the world. As sad examples of where genocide has taken place, allow me to mention Cambodia and Rwanda as well as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

I also wish to recall the heinous crimes and political mass murder in the Soviet Union. Historical consciousness has paid less attention to Gulag than to Auschwitz. However, millions of people died in Siberian prison camps. Stalin, the Communist, executed political opponents and exterminated entire population groups in the same ruthless, cruel and systematic manner as did Hitler, the Nazi.

The crimes committed by Stalin and Hitler have many characteristics in common, but the most common feature is their complete indifference to and contempt for the individual human being, which cost the lives of millions of innocent people.

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In connection with the establishment of the United Nations after the War, there were hopes that global international co-operation would ensure peace and security in the world. However, in spite of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims every human being’s right to life, freedom and personal safety, and in spite of what happened during World War II, the international community has not been able to prevent genocide in modern times.

What my parents witnessed in the first half of the 20th century has occurred again for my children to witness in the second half. It is alarming to recognise that history repeats itself, albeit in different parts of the world and in different forms. Nevertheless, history repeats itself in the exercise of atrocious barbarism on the basis of totalitarian ideologies and intolerance of people of another race, opinion, religion or ethnic origin.

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For almost 50 years after the end of World War II, Europe had to live divided, and the fear of a new global war was allowed to dominate not only Europe, but the world at large. After the end of the Cold War and with the enlargement of NATO and the EU, there ought to be hope that war and outrages against innocent civilians in our continent belong to the past. However, we must be on our guard. Events reaching into our own time have demonstrated that nothing can be taken for granted. It is our duty to protect the values we believe in, including democracy and the individual human being’s right to freedom and self-determination.

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With the establishment of the UN International Criminal Court, which can prosecute the gravest international crimes such as genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity, hopes have been raised that the international community hereby will have a means to halt the most flagrant violations of human rights.

The Court is to be seen as an indication that the international community is on the right track. We will not tolerate dictators and totalitarian regimes’ outrages against the civilian population. They must be brought to justice for their actions. A clear manifestation of this is the fact that today Slobodan Milosevic as the first Head of State in history is on trial in the Hague, indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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After 11 September 2001, the international community faces new challenges. Terrorism targeted at Western society’s values and view of human rights has shaken the foundations of our society. We will not tolerate that terrorists decide the agenda. They must not be allowed to disrupt the peace and stability that our democratic society is based on.

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It is my hope that we shall finally be able to put the dark periods of the 20th century behind us and embark on the 21st century with a common pledge that they must never occur again. We owe that to the millions of victims and we owe it to the generations to come.

It is our duty to ensure that the coming generations understand the causes of these events. It is also important that we through information about freedom, democracy and human rights ensure that history does not repeat itself.

This is the reason why we commemorate Auschwitz Day, today.