U.S. Ambassador at UN: 'Silence Can Be an Accomplice to Intolerance, Bigotry, and Evil'

Former prisoners place candles and flowers at the Death Wall marking the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, on Jan. 27, 2019.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said at United Nations ceremony today to mark 74 years since the liberation of Auschwitz that the international community should heed “a call to action” to “refocus ourselves on preventing atrocities, responding to atrocities when they occur, and ensuring perpetrators are held to account.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was recognized on Sunday. On Jan. 27, 1945, more than 7,000 prisoners remaining at the death camp were freed by the Soviet army, including about 700 children.

Marian Turski, 92, told the UN event that he recalled, as a teen imprisoned at Auschwitz, “the humiliation, just because you were Jewish, you were treated not like a human being, you were treated like a louse, a bedbug, like a cockroach.”

Inge Auerbacher, who survived the Terezin concentration camp as a 10-year-old girl, noted that “the antidote to hatred is education, no more genocides, no more anti-Semitism.”

Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, stressed that “after 2000 years of various forms of anti-Semitism, it doesn’t seem to be an eradicable disease, nor does hate.”

In remarks representing the U.S. government, Cohen honored “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 are reminded that silence can be an accomplice to intolerance, bigotry, and evil, whereas a single act of righteousness can save innocent lives,” he said.

The theme of this year’s commemoration was “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,” Cohen said.

“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,” he added. “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.”

Cohen said the world also has to commit to telling the story of the Holocaust after the last witness has passed away.

“We will and we must, as governments, as diplomats, educators, civic and religious leaders, parents and human beings and as the United Nations,” he said.

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers today re-introduced the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act to elevate the envoy to an ambassador, have him or her report directly to the secretary of State, and make sure that the role is filled by “a person of recognized distinction in the field of combating anti-Semitism or religious freedom.”

“Anti-Semitism has been on the rise globally at an alarming rate. We must do everything to combat this evil in all its forms and wherever we see it,” said co-sponsor Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“This is a necessary and urgent fight,” added co-sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “We must always fight back against anti-Semitism in all of its forms, no matter where in the world it occurs.”