“Hope and Spirit” – Remarks by Ambassador Suzan G. LeVine on the Occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Thank you so much, Esther, for that introduction and for the opportunity to be here with you today!  Please allow me to acknowledge a couple of people in the room before I begin:

Former Federal Councillor, Elisabeth Kopp, and Norman H. Gershman, Photographer and initiator/founder of the Besa-Project – thank you so much for all that you do and for being here tonight!

I also want to take a moment to introduce my mom, Phyllis Davidson, who has proudly served as a docent at the Florida Holocaust museum.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is incredibly meaningful for me to have this chance to share with you some brief thoughts on this day.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the genocide that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews, 1 million Roma and other travelers, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 9,000 homosexual men and thousands of others killed for their political or religious convictions by the Nazis and their collaborators.

It was set on this day, January 27th, because that was the day in 1945 – 70 years ago — when Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi murder camp, was liberated.

But why are we really here?

When I was a little girl, my mom shared with me that, when she was a little girl growing up in Washington DC during the war, not enough was done to stop the murders happening at the hands of the Nazis. I was instilled with the notion that I needed to stay a Jew and that my Judaism mattered because six million Jews died, simply for who they were. I felt personally compelled to do all that I could so that that would never happen again.

So I believe that we are here today, not just to commemorate those who were killed.  We are here to recognize the fact that despite the best efforts of the Nazis and their collaborators we survived.  That despite the insanity of the perpetrators, there was humanity among the victims.

And we are here today not only to commemorate, but to live and to act.

As I was growing up, one of the first phrases I learned was “Never again.”   I now know that “Never Again” isn’t just a wish; it is a command.  It means that we have a moral obligation – as nations and as individuals — to take action to spread tolerance and promote peace; to take action to combat violence and discrimination; to take action to foster hope and deliver a brighter future for all.

President Obama frequently talks about the fact that we can only face the increasingly complex challenges and pursue the increasingly grand opportunities, if we do it together.

Last week at the World Economic forum, Secretary Kerry, spoke about countering violent extremism – extremism born out of a similar intolerance and disrespect for life as that which caused the Holocaust.   He told his audience — and I think it applies to those here today as well:

“We are where we are because we, especially this group here, are builders. We’re the descendants of innovators and doers who survived slavery, plagues, global conflicts, depressions, fascism, totalitarianism, and the Holocaust. We are the inheritors of an activist tradition that is utterly unafraid of great challenges and, in fact, is most effective when we are put to the test.

So now, it’s our turn. The rise of violent extremism is a challenge to the nation state and the global rule of law. And the forces that contribute to it and the dangers that flow from it compel us to prepare and plan, to unite, and to insist that our collective future will be uncompromised by the primitive and paranoid ideas of terrorists, but instead it will be built by the universal values of decency and civility, and knowledge and reason and law.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, 70 years ago today, the survivors who were liberated from Auschwitz and Birkenau finally saw air breathed into the hope that they dared to hold onto during the nightmare of their imprisonment.  And now, we need to be the ones who act and face the challenges of our age, recognizing that every life has equal value, we need to do Tikkun Olam and make sure that we live and act on the words “Never Again.”