Remembering the victims, preventing new atrocities

Bern, 27.01.2021 - Message from President Guy Parmelin marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

A year ago today, dozens of heads of state and government, including our president, and survivors of the Holocaust, three of whom were Swiss, commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Ausschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp from the Nazis. Together, they pledged to keep alive the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the non-Jewish victims of the Third Reich – such as the Roma, Sinti and Yenish people – and to remember the other crimes committed by Germany and its allies. 

Similar ceremonies should have taken place at the sites of other extermination and concentration camps. They were intended to remind us that the Holocaust is not just about Auschwitz or other camps. All of these memorial services had to be cancelled, however, owing to the current pandemic.

In the current public health crisis we should not lose sight of what harmony and cohesion in our society is built on: the spirit of openness, the path of dialogue and the expression of respect. And we should attach even greater importance to these values in times of difficulty that lead to withdrawal, exclusion and the misguided and flawed notion that others are to blame.

Any period of instability can foster extremist sentiment and unhealthy instincts. A glance at the international news is sufficient confirmation of this. We must denounce this psychological process and resist the temptation to engage in violence at all costs. Today, as in the past, we therefore strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism, discrimination and racism.

Since 1945 there have been other acts of genocide. It is therefore imperative that concrete steps be taken to prevent further such acts from occurring. As a founding member of the Global Action against Mass Atrocity Crimes initiative, Switzerland is a forerunner in this field. The GAAMAC network, which was established a few years ago, brings together state and civil society representatives and experts from all continents to develop instruments for preventing atrocities.

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t”, wrote the Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer. “What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Let us remember the victims and work to ensure that atrocities like this never happen again.

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