Speech by Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the European Parliament – Brussels, January 22, 2013

Dr Kantor, Minister Shatter, President Schulz, Honourable Members, Colleagues

I am here today representing President Barroso who sadly cannot be here in person as he is attending the EU-Brazil summit. But I am happy to have this opportunity to share my own personal reflections on the holocaust, or porajmos as it is called by the Romani people in my country, as we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance day.

There is no bleaker chapter in the history of humanity than the holocaust; there are no more dreadful reminders of human cruelty than the gas chambers of Auschwitz; there are no stories so tragic as the personal testimonies of holocaust survivors collected by Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

I've met many of these survivors. Their stories seem tragically similar: 'I'm the only surviving member of my family of 10, 14 or 20. I survived thanks to help from a friend, from a neighbour, from some unknown good person. '

And what about the people who perpetrated these horrible crimes, on such a massive scale and with such fanatical conviction and hatred? How could they think this was right? How could they do such things? How could they live with themselves and their actions? These are questions that we still struggle to answer today: history can only tell us so much – the motivations of the human soul remain a mystery.

But this immense tragedy also showed us the best in people. Their resilience, their capacity for hope, for forgiveness and for reconciliation. It shows us that one man, one woman, one human being can make a difference and save one or many lives. The courage, personal risk and sacrifices made the many who did and helped their fellow citizens, whether they knew them or not, are embodied in Raoul Wallenberg, who we will honour here today. His personal efforts to save tens if not hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews are all the more tragic because of the nature of his death: he was arrested not by the Nazis, the occupiers of Hungary, but by the Soviets, the supposed liberators. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his arrest, imprisonment and death, which remain unclear even today, serve as a reminder that the holocaust continued to cause suffering long after the end of the Second World War.

That is why the Holocaust must never be forgotten. The lowest point in human history must be remembered to ensure that the horrors of that age will never haunt us again.