Just a few weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power, the first state-organized attacks on opponents of the regime and on Jews were carried out across Germany. Less than two weeks later, Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, was opened.
The fortified city of Terez.n was transformed in 1941 into a ghetto whose inhabitants were destined to be transferred to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Terez.n served the Nazis as a perversely titled ‘model Jewish city’ for propaganda purposes. The prisoners’ determination to live, reflected by the cultural and educational activities in the ghetto amidst appalling circumstances, remains an impressive testimony to this day.
Today we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as the many hundreds of camps created with the specific purpose of exterminating the Jewish people – a people that had enriched life in Europe for two millennia.
Europe has come a long way since those darkest of days. The creation of the European Community was inspired by the deep conviction of the founding-fathers, whose cry was ‘Never again!’. Today, the European Union is an important guarantor for all citizens, including the Jewish people, fighting anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head and promoting peace and tolerance among the peoples of Europe – a Union where we strive to ensure that Jews can live the lives they wish to live in security and contribute to the flourishing of our societies.
Against this backdrop of our commitment to the Jewish people of Europe, I have watched with growing unease the recent rise of anti-Semitic behaviour and statements in several European countries. Public incitement to violence or hatred, anti-Semitic hate speech and Holocaust denial must be strongly condemned. Such racism has no place in Europe; it is against our fundamental values and our firm belief in the protection of minorities. The European Commission will be rigorous in ensuring that all citizens are protected by the fundamental rights of freedom of thought, conviction and religion.
It is a blessing to have some of the survivors of the Holocaust among us today. It shall be our firm resolve that Europe’s next generations of politicians, teachers and citizens will continue to honour and remember their lives and suffering, and those of the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazi regime. By remembering those who perished, through instituting proper education about the past and all that it means for us today, we will ensure that those who come after us can understand and cherish the eternal values of liberty, tolerance and respect for humanity.