Taken from a speech given by the President of Poland to the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust

26th January 2000

Why We Must Never Forget The Holocaust...

Aleksander Kwasniewski

27 JANUARY is the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and hence of the few surviving prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I presume therefore that the timing of the International Forum on the Holocaust has not been chosen incidentally.

There were, unfortunately, more tragic places where the Holocaust came about: Chelmno as well as Treblinka, Sobibor and Sztuthof However, the first and largest of the camps, Auschwitz, became a symbol. It became a synonym of the evil born out of hatred and contempt for other people, for racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

All those places designed for the annihilation of millions of people were constructed by human beings. They pursued their goals in the name of an insane ideology.

It was then when the world heard for the first time the ominous name of Auschwitz. Two years later the world irrevocably linked it with the tragic Birkenau. For a long time, it was not able to believe in what had happened there over the period of five years. Regrettably, it still does not understand it. Auschwitz, and the entire experience of the Second World War remain a warning to all of us that in certain historical circumstances people become founders of institutions and systems of social and public life which can lead to genocide, to bureaucratisation of mass murder, to trivialising the evil.

There is therefore never enough reminding and making ourselves aware that in adequately prepared conditions people can become executors of immoral commands and anti-human goals. If people are treated as objects, the way is open to gas chambers. I take the view that the Holocaust must not be treated as an incidental episode in the history of Europe and the world. The Holocaust is an experience of our civilisation. Just like the Parthenon, like the Forum Romanum, like Hagia Sofia, like the Eiffel Tower - Auschwitz-Birkenau is also part of the heritage of the European civilisation. It is a unique memento of human activity.

Auschwitz, however, is also a scream, also a warning. It is the intention of Poland and my own as the President of Poland, for Auschwitz-Birkenau to last as a cemetery and a place of remembrance. I believe it to be very important for young people from around the world to visit it most frequently.

The Jewish people, most numerous in our country out of the whole of Europe, had been among us for centuries. We had lived side by side for very long. In our history, culture, science, their memory is preserved as well as their achievements. In Auschwitz and other camps of annihilation, we lost co-inhabitants of this same land. We lost Polish citizens. It is our own, personal loss. We think of the war-time tragedy of the Jews with utmost pain.

We desire to preserve the memory of them. Not only the memory of their Holocaust but also the memory of their grandiose past. The memory of Jewish culture, customs, knowledge and their unforgettable input into the Polish culture, knowledge and custom. this is the reason why I strongly support the establishment in Warsaw of the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. That museum will be a commemoration of the history of the Jews in our land as well as another educational establishment. It will certainly amount to going half way towards the needs of many of my compatriots.

I will celebrate tomorrow's anniversary of the liberation of Oswiecim there, on the site, together with former prisoners. I will pass on to them the message from Stockholm that the memory of Auschwitz, the memory of the Holocaust, is a memory for the whole of Europe.

I will greet the few surviving prisoners who lived through the Holocaust and who will take part in the anniversary commemoration. And I will promise them, the descendants of the common fate, sentenced to death by Nazism, I will promise to all victims of the largest tragedy of history: we will not forget. I will recall their sacrifice and I will stress: the world will not forget. The world cannot forget.

January 27th 2000
President Kwasniewski at Auschwitz...

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