"The French Republic will never forget"

Commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at the Shoah Memorial

Paris, 27 January 2015

Prime Ministers,

Mr President,

Ministers,

Madam Mayor,

Ambassadors,

President of the Memorial,

Ladies and gentlemen, former deportees,

The Holocaust

27 January is a date forever engraved in human memory. Seventy years ago, on 27 January 1945, at approximately 3.00 p.m., Soviet troops opened the gates of the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was a revelation of horror. It was not yet the moment of liberation, as most of the survivors had been taken by the Nazis on a long march, a death march. Exhausted by hunger, cold and sickness, they suffered their last on the frozen plains of Silesia. As Vasily Grossman wrote, “Not even Dante, in his hell, saw scenes so atrocious.” But you lived it.

And so the world discovered the methodical, planned, scientific extermination of the Jews, a crime so evil it had no name. So a new name was created to designate it: the Holocaust. The Holocaust, the greatest crime ever known to and ever committed by humankind. It was carried out on European soil by the regime of one of our continent’s most civilized nations, and it found allies, accomplices, here in France, under the Vichy government. The scale of this crime made it unique. Six million women and men were exterminated because they were Jewish, and how many others were enslaved or put to death because they were gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, communists, resistance fighters or disabled? Six million, including 1.5 million children; three quarters of Europe’s Jews, more than a third of the world’s Jewish population.

The method of this crime – bureaucratic, industrial – made it unique. The Nazis had made the “final solution”, as they called it, a problem they had to solve by any means possible. First by drawing up lists containing millions of names, so they would know who the Jews were, how they could be found, and make sure no one was left behind. Then the Nazis went out – and not all alone, by the way – to get them; they rounded them up, loaded them into packed cattle cars and ushered them into the gas chambers. That is what occurred in the middle of the 20th century. That is what happened.

The nature of this crime, too, made it unique. Evidence had to be destroyed. The Nazis took the same precautions whether the murders were committed with bullets, as in Ukraine; gas vans, as in Chelmno; or at concentration camps like Auschwitz. The horror had to be disguised so that it could be carried out completely, so that it would be final. All the Jews had to die; nothing was to remain of their presence. Corpses were burned as during the great epidemics of the Middle Ages, the ashes scattered so that no trace would remain of the abomination. Jews had to be excluded from human society to make them disappear from the past, present and future, and to make the task of mourning them impossible for any potential survivors.

Robert Badinter spoke of desperately awaiting his father’s return and of being unable to resign himself to his death. Bruno Bettelheim added that for him, mourning was impossible: “Since some did come back, why wouldn’t my own parents come back one day?” That was his question. They never did come back. But here, at the Shoah Memorial, their names are inscribed forever. Nothing remained of them but ashes and smoke; thanks to you, they have found a place in the eternity of stone.

Remembrance/Shoah Memorial

And you, ladies and gentlemen, you are the last witnesses – indefatigable, inconsolable, uncompromising – and you continue to tell us about what happened 70 years ago. I want to offer you all my gratitude, all the nation’s gratitude for the work – the word is poorly chosen – for the duty you took upon yourselves once again to bear witness, to tell, to recount. You travel among the towns and schools of France. Even now, you make the trip – and I can only imagine how much suffering it must cause you – to Auschwitz, to the very locations where you were deported. You want to show hell to those who don’t know that it once existed on this earth and that you experienced it. It was Simone Veil who said that the deportees never really leave the camps, that their spirit remains there and the Holocaust continues to haunt their lives and their nights. You decided to turn your nightmare into a lesson, a lesson to others. You are the face of humanity – its beautiful face – the humanity the executioners wanted to break, and that is why the echo of your voices must not fade, for otherwise, as Eluard said, we will perish.

I know what torments you: who will speak, who will speak of the camps, who will speak of the Holocaust when you are no longer here? I make you this promise, and it’s a commitment: the French Republic will never forget. And with the documents, the eyewitness accounts you have left us, the books, the texts, the recordings and this place, which belongs to you, we will never forget.

The Shoah Memorial, Mr President, grew out of the Centre for Contemporary Jewish Documentation, whose secret creation in Grenoble in April 1943 was in itself an act of resistance. Isaac Schneersohn, its founder, had decided, in the midst of the Occupation, to assemble the first archives, to collect writings and amass evidence so that one day suffering would be transformed into memory, and memory into history. In 1956, the Centre was established here in the Marais, this neighborhood in the heart of Paris that had been a refuge for Jews early in the century before becoming a trap, the place they came to look for you, in the 1940s.

Seventy years ago, the worst crimes had been committed, and so there had to be a memorial. On 25 January 2005, it was inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac, with this wall dedicated to the 75,721 Jews who were deported from France with the active complicity of the French state. Jacques Chirac began his speech with these words from the Hebrew Bible: “Remember. Never forget.”

On 21 September 2012, I myself inaugurated the Shoah Memorial in Drancy. Drancy, the departure point for trains headed to Auschwitz. I was surrounded by young people from the schools of Seine-Saint-Denis, to whom I issued the same appeal: Never forget, for that would be to insult those who died in the camps.

The Memorial – and I would like to congratulate the entire team – has now succeeded in gathering more than 40 million documents, receives 200,000 visitors every year and hosts every year, on the occasion of Yom HaShoah, a ceremony in which the names of all deported French Jews are read aloud. This ceremony lasts 24 hours; it wouldn’t be possible to read even half of the names of these innocent victims of torture in 24 hours.

The Memorial is dedicated to the passing on of memories, i.e. it’s a place where evil is explained – to the greatest extent possible –, analyzed – as much as is necessary –, and the darkest recesses of this evil are explored. The Memorial is a place of vigilance, a place of clear-sightedness where we learn that remembrance is a commitment, a commitment to the fight against all forms of hatred, because the Memorial commemorates the Holocaust as well as all genocides; the 20th anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda, and this year it will commemorate the anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians.

This Memorial represents suffering, your suffering, that of the survivors, but it also represents the responsibility of the living. The Memorial therefore requires us to go beyond our normal limitations in order to prevent the erasing of memories which would be the final crime of the executioners, with this horrifying question facing us today. How, after the Holocaust, after this crime against humanity, this ignominy whereby racist hatred drove some people to exterminate their fellow human beings, how can anti-Semitism resurface? This is the question we must ask ourselves once again.

Resurgent anti-Semitism

Why do Jewish people feel that they will never have rest or respite? Péguy wrote – 40 years before the Holocaust – “For 50 centuries, Jews have been drenched in suffering.” They are still living in pain. I hear the pleas of those who ask me, who ask us, when this curse will end.

Three weeks ago in Paris, four men died in a kosher store for the same reason that the Vel d’Hiv families were rounded up in 1942, that the faithful were attacked on rue Copernic in 1980, that strollers on rue des Rosiers were killed in 1982, that the young man Ilan Halimi was tortured in 2006, and that children were massacred at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012. Because they were Jewish. They died not because of what they did but because of who they were: Jewish. And so there are four more names that must be added to the long list of names already written on this wall of remembrance.

The rise in anti-Semitic acts has become an unbearable reality over the last few years. The number of these acts reportedly doubled last year: assaults, uncivil behaviour, vandalism. This scourge is, I know, prompting some Jewish people to ask themselves if they should remain in France. France, the country to which they’ve given their hearts and whose joys and sadness they have felt deeply throughout their lives. This France, which loves them, as it loves all children of the Republic, but where sometimes they no longer feel safe. And this doubt, this question is a wound, a terrible wound affecting the Republic, which it must treat and take care of.

French citizens of the Jewish faith, you belong here, you are at home here. France is your homeland. You have given it your talent, your efforts, your courage and sometimes your blood. Our country would no longer be France if it had to live without you, and if terrorism forced you to abandon France, the French language, French culture, and the French Republic that emancipated the Jews, then terrorism would have achieved its goal.

So the responsibility of the Republic’s authorities – they’re all gathered together here – is to do everything to ensure Jews are fully at home in France, to ensure they never feel threatened or isolated here. To fight an enemy, you must first know it and name it: anti-Semitism. It has changed its face, but it hasn’t lost its ancient roots. Some of its motives haven’t changed, unfortunately, since time immemorial. It’s still about conspiracies, suspicion and falsification, but today it’s also fuelled by hatred of Israel.

It imports the conflicts of the Middle East and despicably blames the Jews for people’s misfortunes. It maintains conspiracy theories that spread without limits – conspiracy theories that have, in the past, already led to the worst. So in the face of those threats, we need responses, strong responses, suitable responses.

French government’s response

The first is security. The government of Manuel Valls has taken the proper measures to ensure that the Jewish community’s synagogues, shops, schools and cultural centres are protected. Service personnel have even been present to ensure that protection. But I’m also aware of the bitterness and anger which that presence inspires among many of you. How, in 2015, can we accept that armed soldiers are necessary to defend France’s Jews? It’s necessary and we’re doing it, and we’ll do it for however long it’s called for.

I want to go further, improving the visibility and effectiveness of punishments, which will mean extending to all crimes the aggravating circumstances of racism and anti-Semitism and removing the ban on racist and anti-Semitic language from press law, to include it in general criminal law. And in order for punishment to be an opportunity to gain awareness, alternative sentences of exemplary educational value will be developed.

The second response is communication and knowledge. That’s the role of schools. I want to reiterate my confidence in our country’s teachers and educators. They’re doing their job. We must help them do it successfully, and work together with them to address the concerns raised among them by recent events. How were pupils able, on 9 January, to break the unity of the minute’s silence? It’s a new warning among others, and it imposes an obligation on us.

One of the instruments that can be used to dispel this ignorance is the teaching of the history of the Holocaust. It’s included in the school curriculum for pupils aged 10, 14 and 16; it must be taught without any restrictions. A number of events must also be reintroduced: the National Competition on the Resistance and Deportation, for which I will award prizes on 8 May at the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism. This prize, this competition has existed since 1961. It should be reintroduced and updated and I hope that there will be efforts to ensure that it will continue to exist in the future.

The Memorial must also play its full role. It receives almost 2,000 groups of primary and secondary school pupils and I know that there are pupils who are currently working on the Holocaust, in preparation for the Competition on the Resistance. The passing on of memories, understanding, knowledge, so that nothing is overlooked, or worse, can be interpreted in a particular way.

The third response involves realizing that conspiracy theories are spread through the Internet and social media. But we must not forget that it was words, first of all, that prepared the way for extermination. We must take action at the European level, and even at the international level, so that a legal framework can be established, so that the Internet platforms that manage social networks face up to their responsibilities, and so that penalties can be imposed in the case of non-compliance.

The Union of Former Deportees and the Jewish Students’ Union of France are issuing a call this very day against Holocaust denial on the Internet. They are addressing the major Internet providers; we know who they are. They can no longer close their eyes, or they will be considered complicit in what is being disseminated. France will support this call. This afternoon I will be at Auschwitz, and I will ask the representatives of the governments in attendance to do the same.

Based on these principles – security, the transmission of knowledge, the regulation of the digital sector – I hope that by the end of February, the government will present a comprehensive plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. On 11 January, after what happened in our country – the three-day attack that struck journalists first, police officers next, and then Jews – millions of us came out to demonstrate that France would stand tall in the face of those who would have it buckle. Leaders came from all over the world to show that when France is attacked, it never stands alone. Our response was one of pride, dignity and unity.

French Republic’s values

We are close to the Allée des Justes – the Path of the Righteous – that runs alongside this memorial. The lesson of the Righteous is not simply one of courage; it is one of clear-sightedness, responsibility and dignity, all values that France has embodied. The lesson of the Righteous is that there is always an alternative to howling with the pack or remaining indifferent. The lesson of the Righteous is that even alone, an individual is not without power, not without duty. The message of the Righteous is beautiful, it is strong; they are the men and women who make the world what it is and can therefore change it.

The lesson of the Righteous is that France moves forward when it rallies around its values. Standing together, united, does not preclude differences: they are legitimate. It does not rule out diversity, which is beneficial, or democratic debate, which is necessary. But above and beyond everything else, there is the Republic, one and indivisible. So to all our fellow citizens, to you, who are the witnesses, I want to say that France will protect all its children; it will tolerate no insult, no offence, no desecration. That holds true for all religions, it holds true for all beliefs and all consciences, and here I would like to pay my respects to the representatives of France’s Muslim community, who have joined us here today.

Anti-Muslim acts have also increased over the past few weeks. And every time women, men or children are attacked because of what they think or believe, it’s an attack on what our country represents in the eyes of the world. Together, we are France – the one in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which proclaimed to the world that no one may be disturbed because of his opinions, even religious, and the free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man.

The democratic nations chose to include January 27 in the memory of mankind. What did they want to say? That January 27 is a universal event that concerns not just Jewish people but the whole world.

The nations also wanted to remind all peoples where intolerance leads, that it can strike everyone. It was Frantz Fanon, the anti-colonial philosopher, who wrote: “When you hear someone insulting the Jews, pay attention: he is talking about you.” Remembering crimes against humanity isn’t the task of any one person, it’s our common heritage. To understand barbarism – you came face to face with it – we have to be able to recognize it wherever it is, and those who claim to deny one suffering in the name of another suffering are never on the side of the victims, they’re always with the oppressors.

The Nobel prizewinner in literature, Patrick Modiano, wrote in one of his finest books – which he dedicated to Dora Bruder, a girl who disappeared in the darkness of the camps: “It takes time, a very long time, for what has been erased to come to light.” It is this light that you give us back here at the memorial – you, the former deportees; you the witnesses; you also, who are involved in passing on the memories. And it’s this light that we must all carry together, against the darkness that looms, still looms – here, everywhere – but we are here.

Long live the Republic and long live France!./.

Fight against anti-Semitism/United Nations General Assembly/special meeting on the rise in anti-Semitic violence worldwide – Speech by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs

New York, 22 January 2015

Mr President,

Ministers,

Ambassadors,

Cher Bernard Henri-Levy,

Holocaust anniversary/resurgent anti-Semitism

In a few days, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and in a few months the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism. We will recall the shock and revulsion elicited by the discovery of the extermination camps by Allied troops, who were stunned by the horror.

Seventy years after the Holocaust, we would like to be able to say that anti-Semitism has been eradicated, that it has been banished from our societies for good. And yet it’s still there, with its panoply of prejudices, hatred and violence. Sometimes it’s a resurgent form of the old anti-Semitism, which goes back centuries, but now it also assumes new forms, spreading freely on the Internet and social networks, sometimes under cover of anonymity and sometimes not, sometimes taking as a pretext the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or drawing support from abusive forms of Islamic fanaticism, old or new. It always advocates the hatred of Jews, all Jews, particularly among young people who have no points of reference and are unfamiliar with history.

Paris attacks/kosher shop

It always goes hand in hand with violence and death. And it has struck once again in France.

After murdering the journalists and illustrators of Charlie Hebdo on 7 January in Paris because they were free, after murdering police officers on 7 and 8 January because they were protecting them and protecting our freedom, on the third day of the assault, 9 January, a terrorist attacked a kosher shop because he wanted to kill Jews. Their names were Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and François-Michel Saada. They were killed because they were Jewish.

We will not forget them. That is why we are mentioning their names along with those of the other victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris on 7 and 8 January: Frédéric Boisseau; Franck Brinsolaro; Jean Cabut, known as Cabu; Elsa Cayat; Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb; Philippe Honoré; Clarissa Jean-Philippe; Bernard Maris; Ahmed Merabet; Mustapha Ourrad; Michel Renaud; Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous; and Georges Wolinski. These crimes came in the wake of others: the despicable murder of Ilam Halimi in 2006, the attack on the Ozar Hattorah school in Toulouse on 19 March 2012 – we still remember the faces and names of Jonathan, Gabriel and Aryeh Sandler, and Myriam Monsenego – and the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels on 24 May 2014.

France/world/mobilization

It is our responsibility, in the face of this resurgent evil, to denounce it, to call it with the utmost clarity by its name, but most important, to act with the utmost firmness wherever anti-Semitism rears its head in the world.

Whenever someone attacks Jews because of what they are, he is attacking all of us, the community of nations and the very principles for which the United Nations stands. As Franz Kafka said, “Whosoever strikes a Jew knocks all of humanity to the ground. ”

And I say here at the United Nations that whoever attacks Jews in France because they are Jewish attacks France, its values, the Republic, its integrity. As Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly, “Without the Jews of France, France would no longer be France.” I say the same today of Europe, in the presence of my counterpart and friend, Michael Roth, minister of the Federal Republic of Germany: Without the Jews of Europe, Europe would no longer be Europe.

Our responsibility today is for each country and the entire international community to mobilize their efforts.

On 11 January, leaders from around the world answered President Hollande’s call, rallying in the streets of Paris with the people of France to stand united against hatred and barbarity, to combat fanaticism and jihadism, to defend freedom and brotherhood, and to reject any conflation with Islam. We are not at war with any religion; we are at war with terrorism. And today I want to thank each of your nations for the solidarity they have expressed.

France/measures to combat racism and anti-Semitism

To fight anti-Semitism is to fight hatred, ignorance and impunity, using the strength of the law and the penalties it provides whenever necessary. France has decided to strengthen its legal arsenal and sanctions to punish the perpetrators of anti-Semitic speech and acts. We have honed our statistical tools on anti-Semitic attacks and stepped up our vigilance regarding what’s being said on the Internet.

But we must do more. Three initiatives will therefore be adopted in the short term: the aggravating circumstances of racism and anti-Semitism will be extended to all crimes and misdemeanors punishable by the Criminal Code; racist or anti-Semitic insults or slander will not be covered by the right to publication, as they are not an opinion but rather an incitement to hatred and violence; racist and anti-Semitic messages or websites may be blocked. Furthermore, 10,000 soldiers have been mobilized to protect sensitive locations, particularly Jewish schools, synagogues and mosques. But our response must not be limited to law enforcement. We are also facing an enormous educational challenge with regard to our young people.

That is why a national action plan on racism and anti-Semitism that creates educational and awareness programmes for all students was launched to prevent the formation of stereotypes and prejudices and to establish the values of tolerance and respect for the Other. A major effort on Holocaust remembrance is under way to combat revisionism, and new remembrance sites were inaugurated by the President and Prime Minister in 2012: the Shoah Memorial in Drancy and the Camp des Milles in Aix-en-Provence.

The President has decided to make the fight against racism and anti-Semitism a major national priority.

German role

I would like to conclude by welcoming the presence by my side today of my German counterpart and friend, Michael Roth. On this day, 22 January, which is also Franco-German Friendship Day, our joint presence sends a strong message: that Europe, once the grim theatre of death of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek, will stand on the front lines and wage a merciless battle against anti-Semitism. Our two countries stand before you today, determined and united to defend the values of tolerance, peace and democracy that lie at the heart of the European project and are the very cornerstone of the United Nations.

Lassana Bathily

Ladies and gentlemen, on 9 January, at the kosher shop at Porte de Vincennes, a man risked his life to help police save the hostages. This man was from Mali. Questioned by journalists, who were surprised that a Muslim was working at a kosher shop, Lassana Bathily evoked a common humanity to explain what he had done. I quote: “We are brothers, it’s not a question of Jews, Christian or Muslims, we are all in the same boat. We all have to help one another to get out of this crisis.” He is now our compatriot, an example to all of the courage of the righteous, and an example of brotherhood in this fight, which is the battle to promote the universal values of the United Nations.

Thank you./.

Published on 19/02/2015

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