Auschwitz — 60 Years After
How did foreign ministers commemorate the liberation of Nazi death camps?
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, we present a "virtual" roundtable discussion of political leaders. Participants are UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Foreign Ministers of Israel, Germany and France, as well as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Kofi Annan, what concerns you about this anniversary?
On occasions such as this, rhetoric comes easily. 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 — for instance, in Cambodia, Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia. Even today, we see many horrific examples of inhumanity around the world.
Mr. Fischer, what does this time in history mean to Germany?
This barbaric crime will always be part of German history. For my country, it signifies the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized without precedent or parallel. The new, democratic Germany has drawn its conclusions. The historic and moral responsibility for Auschwitz has left an indelible mark on us.
Mr. Shalom, what is the message beyond Israel itself?
Today, once again, the plague of anti-Semitism is raising its head. The Holocaust teaches us that while Jews may be the first to suffer from anti-Semitism's destructive hate, they have rarely been the last.
The brutal extermination of a people began not with guns or tanks, but with words, systematically portraying the Jew — the other — as less than legitimate, less than human.
Mr. Barnier, as France's Foreign Minister, do you see a kind of "saving grace" stemming from all those acts of barbarism?
Our United Nations Organization was born from a war unlike all others in its geographical scope, its terrifying toll of 55 million lives, mostly civilian, but also in the unique character of the genocide.
But the nations that united against that barbarity won the final victory. By creating an international organization founded on law, they pledged to spare the world from another cataclysm.
Mr. Wolfowitz, what strikes you the most about the Second World War itself?
It was a war that Winston Churchill called "The Unnecessary War" because he believed that a firm and concerted policy by the peaceful nations of the world could have stopped Hitler early on.
But it was a war that became necessary to save the world from what he correctly called "the abyss of a new dark age, made more sinister … by the lights of a perverted science.
And how did U.S. leaders of that era react to Auschwitz?
General Dwight Eisenhower wanted others to see this crime against humanity. So, he urged American Congressmen and journalists to go to the camps. He directed that a film record the reality and that it be shown widely to German citizens.
And he ordered that as many GIs as possible see the camps. American soldiers became what one writer called "reluctant archeologists of man's most inhuman possibilities."
Mr. Fischer, what is the German-Israeli relationship like today?
It is this responsibility for the Shoa that entails a particular obligation for Germany towards the State of Israel. For us, German-Israeli relations will always have a very special character. The State of Israel's right to exist and the security of its citizens will forever remain non-negotiable fixtures of German foreign policy.
Mr. Shalom, what should people learn from this day of commemoration?
For six million Jews, the State of Israel came too late. For them, and for countless others, the United Nations also came too late.
But it is not too late, to work for an international community that will be uncompromising in combating intolerance against people of all faiths and ethnicities — that will reject moral equivalence — that will call evil by its name.
Mr. Fischer, what is the importance of the UN today on the issue of genocide?
The United Nations is uniquely suited to and legitimized for genocide prevention. That is my firm conviction. After all, no other organization has so much experience of conflict prevention and the protection of human rights.
Further strengthening the world organization in this field is thus one of the priorities of German foreign policy. Our history makes this incumbent upon us.
Finally, Mr. Annan, what exactly can the UN do about victims of racism?
To decide which deserves priority, or precisely what action will be effective in protecting victims and giving them a secure future, is not simple. It is easy to say that "something must be done." To say exactly what, when, how and how to do it, is much more difficult.
Editor's Note: All the statements included in this virtual conversation are excerpted from statements by these officials during the UN's special session on January 24, 2005.