Speech by French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 janvier 2016 – Institut Massua, Tel Yitzhak
Ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of the Massua Institute,
I am truly honored to have been asked to speak here today on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the State of Israel, on this special occasion.
Today, we are commemorating the 71th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp – the symbolic end of the deadliest enterprise ever, the lowest point of European and human history and one of its most important lessons, never to be forgotten.
This lesson is certainly about Auschwitz itself, where well over one million human beings were murdered, gassed, starved or shot. Over one million human beings. In one camp. How can one even begin to comprehend the dimensions of Auschwitz ? How can we picture in our heads such a horrendous figure ? And yet, the lesson is not only about Auschwitz. It was but one of the extermination camps where genocide was industrialized on such a massive scale. And the camps themselves were but one of the faces of the Holocaust, along with massive shooting campaigns by mobile units, death marches and forced labor, starvation and diseases in the ghettoes, and many more. And the story of the dead itself is not the whole picture for how many survivors have been scarred for life by the dehumanization, deprivation, constant fear and discrimination of these dark years ?
Words and numbers cannot even begin to express the dizzying magnitude of what happened in Europe barely over 70 years ago. How could such events possibly be forgotten ? Why do we need to commemorate something that, by its very nature, should be impossible to erase ? Well, we do. We need to remember precisely because what seems too colossal to be believed and explained is what should be known and understood. We owe it to the victims, each of whom had a name, a family, friends, a personal story. We also need to remember because looking at this disgrace to our history right in the eyes, however uncomfortable, is our collective responsibility as Europeans and as members of humankind. We owe it to ourselves and to our descendants. We must be reminded history is not a one-way street : the continent that invented democracy, gave birth to the Enlightenment and has known so many revolutions in the name of freedom and equality is the same one where the appalling Nazi ideology rose to power. My country, that granted its Jewish citizens equal rights in 1791, is the same that collaborated with the Nazis and operated the Drancy camp from which tens of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths 150 years later. Europe and France betrayed their own values.
Another story must not be forgotten. It is the one of the countless men and women across all of Europe who stayed true to the values of democracy and Enlightenment, and to their very human conscience. Thousands were recognized as Righteous among the Nations but most of them have remained unknown. By their acts of courage, they saved countless lives and they preserved at least part of the honor of our nations. May I remind that, thanks to them, about three quarters of the French Jewish community were saved.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sometimes, we would like to believe that the plague of anti-Semitism belongs to the past. We know it is not. Remembering the past, however unspeakable, is necessary to fight anti-Semitism in the present. On this front, a huge challenge lies ahead of us.
In 2005, a United Nations resolution designated 27 January as the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The same resolution “condemned without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment of violence against persons or communities based on ethnic or religious belief, wherever they occur”. These words have never been so relevant. In the past 15 to 20 years, we have witnessed an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism all over the world – not only in anti-Semitic hotbeds like Iran, a country that organizes year after year disgusting “Holocaust cartoon competitions”, but also in European cities where Jews are once again attacked for being Jews. In my country, just over a year ago, four French citizens were murdered in a cowardly terrorist attack on a Jewish store. The year before, a French terrorist opened fire at the Jewish museum in Brussels, killing three. In 2012, three children and a teacher were murdered at a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse. And every year, hundreds of physical or verbal anti-Semitic aggressions are registered in France alone, at a level that is unbearable.
Let me say it loud and clear : neither France nor any other European country can and will ever tolerate the resurgence of such absolute evil. We will not let any of our citizens, including our Jewish citizens, be targeted by lunatics motivated by hate and supremacism. Many decisions were made in France, be it in terms of intelligence and law-enforcement front, protection of Jewish worship places, schools and cultural centers, fight against those spreading hate – be it in mosques or on the internet – and promotion of tolerance through education. These efforts will only continue and intensify. They should be made everywhere anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head, in Europe and beyond. And as Prime Minister Manuel Valls recently said, we must also be able to see that hatred of Israel propagated by movements such as BDS can – and often does – hide a new form of anti-Semitism that must be fought as well.
Let me underline that this struggle is not only about protecting a community that has for centuries been an integral part of the French nation and society and contributed so much to it. It’s about protecting our societies as a whole. For if we didn’t react to Jews being assaulted, it would mean that we forgot the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller :
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Whenever we face barbarism, we are all in the same boat. My country knows it all too well. Since the beginning of 2015, individuals motivated by the same murderous, fanatical and anti-Semitic Islamist ideology have killed 149 people in France alone including Jews, but also journalists, police personnel, people going out to a concert or spending time among friends at a bar…
Ladies and gentlemen,
It cannot be stressed enough that Israel was established not because of the Holocaust, but in spite of the Holocaust that decimated one third of the Jewish people. We know the everlasting debt we as Europeans owe to Israel and the Jewish people. We believe the memory of this catastrophe should unite us forever and never divide us. Therefore, I have been dismayed to hear, on a few occasions, inappropriate and hurtful comparisons between European Union policies, coherent with both our long-held positions on the two-state solution and our existing legislation on the one hand, and boycott campaigns and anti-Semitism on the other hand. Holocaust memory is too important to be cheapened, even in this country and especially at a time when fighting anti-Semitism must remain – perhaps more than ever since World War 2 – a shared and consensual priority. A clear moral line needs to be drawn here, for this confusion is neither in Israel’s interest, nor does it serve the cause of the fight against anti-Semitism.
In our shared struggle for our everlasting values, we will keep the flame of remembrance alive and continue standing alongside the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad, to confront anyone willing once again to destroy it.