Learn from Holocaust: UN chief urges nations

01-25-2005, 12h06

The evil perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II must never be allowed to happen again, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned as the UN General Assembly held in a special meeting to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

"Such an evil must never be allowed to happen again," Annan told the assembly Monday, noting that the world body was born from the ashes of the Holocaust. "We must be on the watch for any revival of anti-Semitism, and ready to act against the new forms of it that are happening today."

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel also addressed the meeting denouncing the world's overall indifference as the slaughter of Jews and other concentration camp prisoners was taking place during World War II.

He described Auschwitz, where some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, perished, as "an executioner's ideal of a kingdom of absolute evil and malediction."

Annan said the United Nations, which was founded shortly after the war, must do everything in its power to prevent the scale of the slaughter undertaken by Nazi Germany.

His remarks were echoed by an appeal from Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, while German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer evoked the stain that the Holocaust had left on his country's past.

"Today, once again the plague of anti-Semitism is raising its head," Shalom warned.

He paid homage to the victims and liberators of the Nazi death camps, urging world leaders to fight against the "delegitimization and dehumanization" of any group of people.

"Let all of us gathered here pledge never to forget the victims, never to abandon the survivors, and never to allow such an event ever to be repeated," Shalom said.

Fischer said the Holocaust would always be part of German history.

"The state of Israel's right to exist and the security of its citizens will forever remain non-negotiable fixtures of German foreign policy. On this Israel can always rely," he said.

Annan noted that Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, Soviet prisoners of war, and mentally or physically handicapped people, homosexuals and others were also "massacred in cold blood" in Nazi extermination camps.

He also honored "the brave people" who risked or sacrificed their lives to help Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime. "Their examples redeem our humanity, and must inspire our conduct," he said.

However he noted with deep regret that efforts to wipe out masses of people have continued over the decades in Cambodia, Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia.

"On occasions such as this, rhetoric comes easily," Annan said. "We rightly say never again. But action is much harder. Since the Holocaust the world has, to its shame, failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide."

He made special mention of the continuing crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan, one of the world's most pressing humanitarian emergencies.

"Terrible things are happening today in Darfur, Sudan," he said, noting that UN officials on Tuesday are to receive the findings of an international panel investigating the Darfur atrocities.

"That report will determine whether or not acts of genocide have occurred in Darfur. But also, and no less important, it will identify the gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights which undoubtedly have occurred."

Annan said the report will be a test of whether the United Nations had in fact learned the lessons from Europe's mass exterminations 60 years ago.

Monday's session at the General Assembly began with one minute of silence and came three days ahead of the actual anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, in Poland, by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.