Greetings, dear friends and colleagues. Thank you very much for the honour you have given us in inviting us to this event today.
Today, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, we have gathered here in Krakow, Poland’s ancient capital. During the Second World War, it was here that the Nazis committed the terrible atrocities that today we know by the name of the Holocaust – the greatest crime against humanity.
The Nazis chose Poland as the site for planned mass extermination of people, above all, of Jews. Polish soil became the epicentre of the Holocaust and was turned into the bloody embodiment of Fascist racial theories that proclaimed other peoples to be “subhuman.”
Today, six decades later, we see the Holocaust not only as a national tragedy for the Jewish people, but as a catastrophe for all of humanity.
Soviet soldiers liberating this land were the first to set eyes on the cold-blooded atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland. They extinguished forever the furnaces of Auschwitz and Birkenau, Maidanek and Treblinka and saved Krakow from annihilation. Six hundred thousand Soviet soldiers laid down their lives and this was the price they paid to save the Jewish people, and many other peoples, from total extermination.
The world shuddered when it found out about Auschwitz. Here in the centre of Europe, which gave the world some of its greatest humanists, was a huge factory designed to exterminate people on an industrial scale. As documents from the Nuremburg trials show, almost three million people – 2.8 million people – were forced to tread this sorrow-filled and terrifying road, and 90 per cent of them were Jewish.
The tragedy of Auschwitz is a bitter warning for humanity for all time to come. The Holocaust showed how easy it is for a civilisation to cross the boundary into brutality, which inevitably leads to the destruction of humanity. This is no exaggeration because, following the Nazis’ ideas and the logic of their behaviour, other peoples, and the Slavic peoples among the foremost, were to have met with the same fate as the Jews.
This is beyond all imagination. Who can accept that people would kill their fellow human beings in a planned action born out of base instincts, bloody prejudices and racial hatred? Once they declared another people inferior, suddenly an awful readiness appeared to exterminate that people. This is one of the most terrifying and unfathomable lessons of the past.
This is why it is our duty to remember the Holocaust, understand what caused it, think about why it was possible and do all we can to ensure that this horror never happens again. It is our duty to declare with one voice to present and future generations that no one has the right to remain indifferent to anti-Semitism, nationalism, xenophobia and racial or religious intolerance.
The German Chancellor said just recently that he is ashamed of the past. But that is the past. There are many of us who should feel ashamed of the present. Even in our country, which did the most to fight Nazism, to vanquish Nazism, to save the Jewish people – even in Russia did we see, unfortunately, manifestations that are cause for shame.
But I have to say that Russia will always go beyond condemning any such manifestations to fight them with the force of the law and through public opinion. As the President of Russia I say this loud and clear here at this forum.
Today we must also realise that modern civilisation faces a new and no less terrible threat. Terrorists have taken over from the executioners in their black uniforms. The similarities between Nazism and terrorism are obvious: the same contempt for human life, the same hatred for different views and, most terrible of all, the same commitment to their fanatical goals. Today’s terrorists would not hesitate to exterminate all who do not share their aims or who do not meet the criteria they have set.
It is my firm belief that we can preserve our civilisation only if we set aside our minor differences and close ranks against the common enemy as we did during the Second World War.
The politicians and statesmen of the twenty-first century must work in the interests of a great goal, the goal of preserving human lives as the greatest value, preserving our dignity and preserving humanity as a community of civilised people able to respect themselves and others and value this world in which we live.
Thank you very much for your attention.