President participates in The Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration

Sun 25th Jan, 2015 | 18:00
location: Mansion House

Mansion House

Sunday, 25th January, 2015

Speech at the Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration

Mansion House, Dublin, 25th January 2015

Seventy years after the Holocaust, it remains an atrocity which we regard and remember with horror, revulsion, and disbelief. We owe so much to the survivors of that atrocity, who continue to bear witness to the terrible inhumanity that can emerge from hatred, prejudice and intolerance.

Dia dhaoibh a dhaoine uaisle,

Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu.

Thank you for that warm welcome. I would also like to thank the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland for inviting me to join you all on this important day during which we remember the eleven million people, including six million Jews who lost their lives in the concentration camps of Europe.

In 2000, Ireland signed the Stockholm Declaration and, in doing so, as a nation we undertook, along with other European partners and the wider international community, to ensure that the victims of the Holocaust would be remembered.  Today, gathered here together, we give witness to that commitment.

We are honoured that some of the survivors of the Holocaust are with us this evening.  They have, over the years, acted as witnesses to the horrors of the past and, through their actions they have helped to educate successive generations about the brutal consequences that flow from individuals, groups, cultures, belief systems being chosen as targets for hate and even genocide. May I personally acknowledge and honour those survivors present here this evening: Suzi Diamond, Jan Kaminski and Tomi Reichental. 

I thank you for coming here, and for all that you do, and have done, to ensure that we do not forget the horrific events that constituted the slaughter of millions of persons across Europe and the concentrated elimination of specified minorities, nor should we neglect how attitudes and assumptions, left unchecked, made their own contribution to the events we recall.

Seventy years after the Holocaust, it remains an atrocity which we regard and remember with horror, revulsion, and disbelief. We owe so much to the survivors of that atrocity, who continue to bear witness to the terrible inhumanity that can emerge from hatred, prejudice and intolerance.

It is their testimonies over the years – their memoirs, diaries, novels, poems, interviews and personal accounts – which have ensured that a terrible stain on human history has not become forgotten, or diluted, across the distance of years and decades which now separate us from the dark days of the second world war.

Their personal recollections remind us of the many, many individual stories which make up the narrative of the Shoah; the ruptured families, the lost potential, and the brutal assault on culture and identity; as well of course as the courage, generosity of spirit, tenacity and great will to survive which are also a part of the Holocaust narrative.

We are approaching a time, however, when the Holocaust will become a chapter that has passed from the possibility of personal recall into history. It will remain important that future generations learn about and comprehend that baleful chapter in World history, and all of the hateful assumptions and practices that preceded it; assumptions and practices that now seek to re-emerge in so many places to continue the prejudice, discrimination and persecution which lead to the great failure of humanity that was the Shoah.  In the decades to come, the literature of the Holocaust and indeed its representation in film and in other media, as well as the preservation of the archives of the period will then take on an ever greater importance.

The late French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has said that ‘To be forgotten is to die twice’ and as humanitarians and fellow human beings, we have a duty to preserve the memory of the many people who lost their lives so shockingly and so tragically, and that we commit to remembering and drawing lessons from the consequences of actions that have taken place, and from actions that should have happened but did not, from silences that should have been broken, actions that should have been takens and were not.

At the same time, let us remember too such exceptions as the actions of Hubert Butler and his friends, whose actions must never be forgotten for their courage and their humanity without borders.

It is also critical that we focus on the question of how best to ensure an ethical remembrance of the Holocaust. We know that engaging with these horrifying events of the past could never be easy. It involves a complex and sensitive treatment of the manifold narratives, memories, hurts, legacies and emotions of all those affected by such a past. For some, the burden of that past is too heavy, too painful to remember. However forgetting the past, affecting any amnesia can, in itself, be a harmful and damaging act, and it is surely through remembering consciously and  ethically that we acquire the potential to gain release from past wrongs, and acquire also the resolution to anticipate revivals of hate and exclusion.

What ought we to remember? What ought we seek to transcend? And what calls for ongoing scholarship? These are questions which must lie at the heart of any aspiration for the fullness of life.

On this Holocaust Memorial Day, let us commit to a will to remember ethically. In doing so, we must all be committed too to the task of facing, opposing and exposing any and all incipient forms of racism, distortion of sacred texts and invitations to hate, such as led, for example to the recent atrocities in Paris.

While this is a solemn occasion of remembrance, during which we are commemorating a very horrific set of events in European and world history, we must also remember that there is light.  There is good to be found in the world, and there are good people who will stand against hatred, destruction and intolerance and will carry the torch of truth and light with them.

As we remember the hateful discrimination that led to the Holocaust, and the horrors of that period, we must remember also today what emerged from that tragic episode of European history – in particular the resolution of the people of Europe to seek to found a new community of nations and peoples founded on the principles and values of human rights and human dignity.

Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt do gach duine a bhí páirteach i gcomóradh an lae inniu. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil turas fada curtha díobh ag go leor daoine in bhur measc le bheith anseo tráthnóna agus gabhaim buíochas libh as sin. Ba phribhléid mhór domsa a bheith rannpháirteach san imeacht ríthábhachtach seo.

[May I conclude by commending everyone participating in today's commemoration. I know that many of you have travelled long distances to be present here this evening and I thank you for that. It has been a great privilege to be part of this most important event.  Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir.]