International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Bern, 26.01.2024 - Message from the President of the Swiss Confederation to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Saturday, 27 January 2024.

Today, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we honour the memory of the six million Jews murdered during the Second World War, as well as the memory of the Sinti, the Roma and all the other victims who suffered under Nazism and its policy of systematic large-scale extermination. It is both valuable and necessary to remember the Holocaust and commemorate the victims of Nazism. It is our historical responsibility to preserve the memory of this immeasurable crime. It is also our duty to step up efforts to prevent, inform and educate so that such tragedies never happen again.

In this respect, the current international context calls for vigilance. It is a fact that anti-Semitism, exploiting prejudice to foment hostility, has led to terrible atrocities. Its resurgence following the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas against civilians in Israel on 7 October 2023 must therefore be fought with determination and vigour. Whatever one thinks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the conduct of military operations in Gaza and the other occupied territories, it is unacceptable that, here in Switzerland, our fellow citizens of the Jewish faith should be attacked or feel threatened. Anti-Semitism, like other forms of hatred based on race, ethnicity or religion, has no place in a democratic society, whose prevailing values are tolerance, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. Political expression is a constitutional right, but incitement to hatred and discrimination are prohibited by law.

While emotions and tensions run high, parallels are being drawn on all sides between the Second World War, the Holocaust and current events. However, we need to exercise great caution here. Such comparisons may create false equivalences which distort our understanding. Not only do we then fail to acknowledge the distinctive nature of the Holocaust, new tensions may also be stirred up and polarisation accentuated. Political responsibility therefore calls for restraint, both for the sake of truth and to maintain the possibility of dialogue and mutual understanding.

We also need to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive because the voices of the survivors who are still with us are gradually fading. As the last direct witnesses disappear, it is now the places where the crimes of Nazi Germany and its collaborators were committed that bear witness to the historical truth. In this respect, we welcome the important achievement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, to which Switzerland belongs, in adopting a charter for the preservation of such sites. This charter stresses the importance of safeguarding the integrity of sites linked to the Holocaust and the Roma genocide so that they can fully play their role of commemoration, information and education, particularly for younger generations.

Switzerland took an important step towards preserving the memory of the Holocaust in 2023. In a move backed by a unanimous parliament, the Federal Council decided in favour of creating a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Bern, in conjunction with the civic authorities. The federal government will support the creation of a national network of remembrance and information sites, the first of which is the transnational project in the canton of St Gallen. The intention is to send a clear message against genocide, anti-Semitism and racism and in favour of democracy, the rule of law, freedom and fundamental individual rights. Mass crimes can only be prevented if we have a better understanding of the Holocaust and promote open debate, including on the role played by Switzerland during the Second World War.

The philosopher Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, had this to say on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize: "For us, forgetting has never been an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act." At the heart of Wiesel’s thinking was the conviction that if we neglect the task of remembering, we condemn ourselves to repeating the disasters and wars of the past. As we bow our heads in memory of the victims, it is precisely for this reason that we must redouble our efforts to understand, explain, debate and prevent, now more than ever.   

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