U.N. marks Holocaust liberation
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 10:36 p.m.
UNITED NATIONS - With calls of "never again," the U.N. General Assembly commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps with a special session Monday, a stark change for a body that has been reluctant to address the extermination of the Jews during World War II.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, joined world leaders in confronting a question that has long haunted the United Nations: whether its member states have the will to stop future genocide. With mass atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, the question took on new poignancy.
"The Jewish witness that I am speaks of my people's suffering as a warning," Wiesel told the General Assembly. "He sounds the alarm to prevent these tragedies from being done to others. And yes, I am convinced if the world had listened to those of us who tried to speak we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia, and naturally Rwanda."
There were subtle reflections of a changed stance at the United Nations, where efforts to condemn anti-Semitism and commemorate the liberation of the camps had been blocked for years by the Soviet Union. In 2003, Ireland withdrew a General Assembly resolution condemning anti-Semitism because of Muslim and Arab opposition.
In his remarks Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a rare reference by a U.N. chief to the Holocaust by name before the General Assembly. Later Monday, a photography exhibit opened at U.N. headquarters featuring images from the death camps, the first time an exhibit about the Holocaust is being shown at the United Nations.
"We must be on the watch for any revival of anti-Semitism, and ready to act against the new forms of it that are appearing today," Annan said. "That obligation binds us not only to the Jewish people, but to all others that have been, or may be, threatened with a similar fate."
But just one Middle East country - Jordan - delivered a speech commemorating the liberation of the camps. While 138 nations including several Arab ones had said they supported the commemoration, few attended the commemoration.
Late last year, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth requested a commemorative session on Jan. 24, three days before a similar event in the former Auschwitz death camp in Poland to mark its liberation by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.
Between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners - most of them Jews - perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease at Auschwitz. Overall, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz appeared to make a veiled reference to Iraq during his speech, saying that though leaders had agreed to set aside politics for the commemoration, they must do so with "a unanimous resolve to give real meaning to those words 'never forget."'
"Last Thursday, as he began his second term in office, President George Bush expressed his belief that our nation's interests cannot be separated from the aspirations of others to be free from tyranny and oppression," Wolfowitz said.
Speaker including Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Russia's commissioner for human rights, Vladimir Lukin, warned against a rise in anti-Semitism around the world.
Shalom pointed to the strength of movements denying the Holocaust, asking if there was anything worse than the destruction of an entire race.
"There is something worse: to do all this and then deny, to do all this and then take from the victims and their children and grandchildren the legitimacy of their grief," he said.
The United Nations was created in the wake of World War II. It voted soon after, in 1947, to carve out two countries in Palestine, one Jewish, the other Arab, but the Palestinians' share was lost in the 1948 Mideast war with parts divvied up among Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
"We have not learned one iota," said Josephine Prinse, a Holocaust survivor who still bears the prison number tattooed on her arm by the Nazis. "We talk. Do you see the results? They are still killing people in Darfur."
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