On behalf of the European Jewish Congress, federating all the national representative organizations of the Jewish communities on this continent, thank you for the commitment you have shown to our common values of peace, unity and tolerance by taking part in The Fourth International ‘Let My People Live!’ Forum here in the Czech Republic.
This year, we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Few of those who directly encountered those horrors lived to share their experiences. And as the years pass by, sadly still fewer are here to personally impart the lessons of these terrible events. As memory fast becomes history, their experiences, Europe’s own experience of Nazism, totalitarianism, intolerance, war and destruction, fades into the back of our minds.
Direct transition of experience can apply at most from the first to the third generation, to the personal connection of grandchild and grandparent. The time has now come when we require other forms, such as education in society, modernization of legislations and direct governmental influence in order to be truly immune from repeating the mistakes of the past.
Seventy years, a lifetime later, we run the danger of forgetting where nationalism, chauvinism, racism and anti-Semitism can lead. But we also forget where misplaced tolerance towards those who would seek to destroy our societies also leads. More than anywhere else on this continent, here in the Czech Republic we saw what happened when there was a tolerance of extremism and a misplaced desire for a quiet life that caused us to deliberately avoid the real issues that plagued our societies. The failure to tackle Nazism and the appeasement that allowed it to swallow up the infant Czechoslovak democracy did not lead to peace, it led to war. And for many years afterwards, this continent remained divided.
Today, together, we have a unique chance to address some of the causes of our previous greatest tragedy in order to ensure that it will not be repeated. Our gatherings here of the most senior political decision-makers and our discussions among intellectuals, opinion-formers and leaders will address the most pressing issues facing all of our societies.
Each of you has a unique contribution to make to our collective Forum, based on your own experiences to the challenges we all share and from which none of us is immune.
In our 21st-century Europe, we face new challenges of globalization, economic uncertainty and depression, the positive – but also sometimes corrosive – nature of mass communications, and perhaps, our greatest current threat of all, religious extremism and fundamentalism.
We will not hide here from addressing these most sensitive subjects affecting the citizens of Europe, and neither will we push aside a real examination of their roots and causes as well as proposals for practical solutions. Indeed, Czech history, Europe’s most recent history and the site of the Terez.n death camp bear absolute testimony to why we cannot do otherwise.
May I take this opportunity to thank President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and the government of the Czech Republic, as well as the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, for being our partners on this Forum and for understanding the absolute urgency to act now before it is too late.
Let all of the peoples of Europe live.