Remarks at a UN Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 28, 2019


Secretary General, Excellencies, distinguished guests, I am deeply honored to represent the United States at this commemoration for victims of the Holocaust. Thank you to the Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly for hosting us here today. It is a particular honor to be with Marian Turski, Inge Auerbacher, as well as the other Holocaust survivors and the World War II veterans with us today. I’d also like to thank Ms. Sara Bloomingfield, who is with us. Under her leadership, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has helped new generations bear witness to genocide, ensuring that we will continue to learn from the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust long into the future.

Today, we honor the memory of the millions of people – Jews, Slavs, Roma, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and countless others – who were murdered during the Holocaust, a period of unparalleled depravity and inhumanity. We affirm our ongoing responsibility to live up to the admonitions, “Never forget and never again.”

We also honor today, those who survived the Holocaust, many of them spared from death because ordinary people risked their lives to save Jews and others from Nazi persecution. We are reminded that silence can be an accomplice to intolerance, bigotry, and evil, whereas a single act of righteousness can save innocent lives.

The theme of this year’s Day of Commemoration is, “Demand and Defend Your Human Rights.” We recall that the United Nations was born of the world’s disgust with the horrors of the Holocaust. The United Nations’ commitment to human dignity and human rights has transformed international norms, ensuring that every human being can and should expect to be treated with respect.

We must also confront the fact that in far too many places around the world today, the international community has failed to support those who are demanding and defending their rights. In Burma, we have seen a vicious campaign of dehumanization against the Rohingya community. In Syria, the Assad regime continues to commit brutal atrocities against its own people. In Venezuela, people are taking to the streets in defense of their rights and their democracy after suffering years of oppression. And yet, far too many governments choose to remain silent. Or worse, they defend the perpetrators and stop the members of this United Nations from taking steps to help.

Today is about remembering the past, but it should also be a call to action. To refocus ourselves on preventing atrocities, responding to atrocities when they occur, and ensuring perpetrators are held to account. The United States will continue to work with other countries and partners around the globe to stand up for human rights and to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.

Twenty years ago, I was privileged to help establish the International task force for Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research, now called the international Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. We started with just a few countries in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem. Today the alliance has 42 member, liaison and observer States. The task force’s founding declaration encouraged parents, teachers and civic, political and religious leaders to undertake with renewed vigor and attention, holocaust education, remembrance and research. In 2000, at a conference in Stockholm leaders from over 20 countries declared that the international community shares the solemn responsibility, and that we must strengthen the moral commitment of our governments to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. These words remain at least as urgent and as true today as they were at the turn of the millennium.

At Saturday’s Holocaust memorial service at the Park East Synagogue, in response to the question of who will tell the story of the Holocaust when the survivors no longer can? Secretary General Guterres responded simply and forcefully, “we will.” I hope you will join me in reaffirming the Secretary General’s words. We will and we must, as governments, as diplomats, educators, civic and religious leaders, parents and human beings and as the United Nations. Who will tell the story of the Holocaust? We will. I thank you.