Dear Commissioner Schinas,
Dear Tomi Reichental and our dear Holocaust survivors,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you all for joining us here to remember the six million men, women and children who were murdered in the Shoah by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
Exactly one year ago, we gathered together with around 50 world leaders at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.
There we made a joint commitment to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten, and to tackle extremism of any kind through real political engagement, legislation, education and joint actions by governments and civil society.
It was an event like no other, in a city like no other to remember an evil like no other.
Who could have imagined that just one year from that day, the fragility of humanity could be so exposed that even the smallest physical contact would be prevented from us and that only technology could join our thoughts and prayers together.
Covid-19 has damaged our perceptions of what is possible in so many ways.
We have all been lost during the current pandemic, but the survivors of the Holocaust even more so.
Throughout their lives, they have shown mighty strength of spirit, but in the current crisis, many have sadly died alone and in pain, or are now fighting for their lives, and many others are suffering from extreme isolation.
Toby Levy, a survivor, put it best in the New York Times: “The Holocaust stole my youth. Covid-19 is stealing my last years”.
We have a duty to survivors like her, to ensure that they are able to live their last years in dignity, without fear, and in the company of their loved ones.
Therefore, I call on European leaders to ensure that Holocaust survivors have access as soon as possible to a safe and effective vaccination and with the highest priority.
As we pay tribute to the victims of the biggest tragedy in history, we must not forget the fundamental lesson that in times of crisis, extremism can rise rapidly.
The pandemic has created the social conditions where antisemitism and extremism thrive.
The human mind, like the human body is fragile to mutating viruses. And so are our democracies and our shared values of human rights and freedoms.
We have a responsibility to prevent the spread of hate speech and conspiracy theories, and I am pleased that the European Union and Member States are finally addressing this new threat by recognising that antisemitism needs to be fought across all policy areas.
The European Jewish Congress and our Jewish communities welcome very much these initiatives.
But I fear this may be too late for some. If you enable the spread of hatred into young minds, it will grow in a few years into the cruelty of action.
We are already seeing social unrest and increasing political division across the world. We must not only tackle the effect, but also seriously address the cause and to take action to prevent this.
This means a continuous process of education from a young age and education about the Holocaust.
And this is the task that our speaker Tomi Reichenthal, has dedicated his life to. He has told his story to thousands of people, even though putting the painful memories into words is each time a painful act.
He has done this to keep the memory of the Shoah alive.
Dear Tomi, your story is one of incredible strength, resilience and compassion and I am honoured that you are here with us at this commemoration.
Six million children, women, and men perished in the Shoah.
I mention this figure again so that we understand the enormity of the Shoah, and what this tragedy symbolises for my people and for all of Europe.
Please remember this number – almost half of the Member States of the European Union currently have a smaller population than six million.
Thank you very much.