International Holocaust Remembrance Day: The responsibility to remember – for the victims and for ourselves

Bern, 27.01.2022 - Bern, 27.01.2022 – Message by Ignazio Cassis, President of the Confederation and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA on the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

We remember, because we do not want to forget. Because we must not forget. Remembering helps us to understand. It helps us to learn from history. That is why every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day we remember the six million Jewish men, women and children killed and all the other victims of the Holocaust.

It is 77 years to the day since the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp on 27 January 1945. The prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp had to hold out for another eleven weeks. One of them was Fishel Rabinowicz, and just a few days ago, I had the great honour of meeting this remarkable man in person in Ticino.

1. Art as an expression of remembrance

Fishel Rabinowicz is now 97 years old and one of the last Holocaust survivors living in Switzerland. Born in Poland in 1924, he was deported in 1941 and spent almost four years in a number of different labour and concentration camps. His parents and seven of his nine siblings did not survive the Holocaust. On the day he was liberated, Rabinowicz weighed less than 30 kilograms – but he was alive.

He came to Switzerland as a young man, in 1947. After some time spent recovering in a Davos sanatorium, he went on to complete an apprenticeship; he then got married and moved to Ticino. Rabinowicz had always been a gifted painter, and after he retired, he turned to art as a means of processing his experiences. “With my pictures I want to make sure we never forget what happened back then,” he explains. Over the years, his passion has produced 50 works of art – a powerful visual exploration of Judaism and the Shoah.

2. We must never forget

Seeing these pictures and hearing the incredible life story of Fishel Rabinowicz in person was deeply moving. Today we can still hear these testimonies directly from survivors. We can still meet these people, shake their hands and sit down with them. They are quiet voices that speak to us. But what they have to say is important – perhaps more important now than ever. It is up to us to preserve their words.

The Italian poet and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi said it so forcefully: “Consider that this has been: / I commend these words to you. / Engrave them on your hearts / When you are in your house, when you walk on your way, / When you go to bed, when you rise. / Repeat them to your children.”

3. We all have a responsibility

When we remember the Holocaust, we do so for the millions of people who did not survive. But we also do it for those who were left behind. And we do it for ourselves. Only if we understand how something could happen can we prevent such atrocities in the future. It is true that the generations born after the war bear no responsibility for the Holocaust. But we do have a responsibility to remember and to do everything we can to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

We have a responsibility to stand up against anti-Semitism, racism, hatred and violence, and totalitarianism. The Swiss Federal Council speaks out clearly and unequivocally against anti-Semitism and racism. And last June it adopted a report with recommendations on how to further improve measures against anti-Semitism in Switzerland.

4. Diversity as a valuable asset

Remembering the Holocaust is only possible by communicating facts and knowledge – in schools, but not only. The rapid advances in information technology in recent years have made it possible to reach out to young people and interest them in the history of the Holocaust and the testimonies of the survivors. Moreover, the creation of a Swiss memorial for the victims of the Nazi regime is a matter of great importance to me personally and to the Federal Council as a whole.

During the Holocaust, millions of people were murdered – Jews, Sinti and Roma, people with disabilities, gay people. Their dreams and hopes were wiped out in the name of an inhuman ideology that does not tolerate diversity. But diversity is our strength. It is up to us to do everything we can to respect this diversity and defend it at all costs. We must all stand up again and again for those who cannot defend themselves – for a free and democratic world based on the rule of law.

Address for enquiries

FDFA Communication
Federal Palace West Wing
CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Tel. Press service: +41 58 460 55 55
Twitter: @SwissMFA


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs