Speech by the Danish Prime Minister Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen 26 January 2000.
Dear friends, delegates, dear colleagues,
If it had not been for the United States and the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and other allies – and the gradually increasing resistance all over Europe - we would not have been here today. It is most unlikely that there would have been any Jews left in Europe. No one would remember the methodical and machine-like way in which they had been exterminated.
There would not have been any spiritual freedom left. Freedom, which would make it possible to demonstrate, that mourning, grief and sadness over the victims were still alive - and never would be forgotten. Our children would systematically have been taught to practice inhumanity in the worst imaginable way.
To the civilised society at that time Holocaust went beyond the worst fears: Genocide was committed – without mercy and compassion – with a demon-like way not at all connected to something fantastic or extraordinary, - but with that scary touch of normality; people just did their job! This is perhaps the most frightening sign and signal from the past!
Holocaust did not succeed in enslaving Europe permanently. But enslavement could only be stopped by the use of force against Hitler and Holocaust – led by the two countries which later became super powers, by United Kingdom and other allies – and by the resistance among the European populations. It is important to respect humanity and human rights – otherwise power becomes a danger to all of us. This is perhaps the reason why one of the two super powers does not exist any longer.
Let us in this context not forget the criminal and brutal mass killings committed by the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union.
As a human being – and prime minister in a small peaceful country – Holocaust confronts me with the fact, that we still need to learn how to deal with power and force in a civilised way. As a politician I cannot regard power as evil in itself. But as a human being I have to realise that power contains certain dangers and a potential to disregard democracy, the rule of law and human rights. We have seen it again and again. In our time too – on our continent: extermination – terror – killings.
How can we keep the memory about Holocaust alive and thereby contribute to avoiding repetitions?
I do not consider historical knowledge about what happened then - and how it happened - to be enough. Because even a huge historical knowledge may lead us to think: it happened then, and now it is gone forever.
It is fundamental – but not enough - to remember the victims. We must ask ourselves what is needed now in order to prevent a repetition. When it comes to the states and political activities – and also the work of many others, civil servants, teachers, cultural personalities – the awareness of the human and civilising values of democracy must be kept alive. Not least in the young generation this is important. These values should never be taken for granted. Everybody must care for the common cause. Each and every day.
Let me underline that it takes action to create a good society. It is true that Aristotle thought that the human being, was a 'zoon politicon', a political animal, but - mind you – also an animal. The position once reached is too easily accepted. We are tempted to believe that we can rest upon our laurels. But the etching of the ingenuous Spanish painter Goya is still true when it says that 'sleep produces monsters'. An alert, well-informed population is at the same time a prerequisite for democracy and a consequence of democracy. Only such a population can really remember the victims.
We now see important signals of fundamental changes in the international co-operation - changes in the world we live in. The first sign of this was the United Nations Charter - a result of the fight against Nazism. This line continues in many foreign policy initiatives with a view to promoting the respect for human rights and creating a basis of institutions and rules, which in reality stand above the inviolability of borders. At present we discuss a new global agenda with new international responsibilities and possibilities.
Luckily the European Union plays a major role in safeguarding and promoting these new, necessary values. The enlargement of the Union will lead to a further consolidation of democracy, respect for human rights and protection of minorities.
We are finally moving in the right direction here at the dawn of the 21st century – as far as prosecution of those, who commit serious international crimes, is concerned.
Today, violators of fundamental human rights cannot hide in safety. They cannot sleep in peace anymore. And that is the way it should be.
But we are still lacking behind with regard to prevention - hindering atrocities from occurring in the first place.
We did not prevent the genocide in Cambodia. Neither the genocide in Rwanda - nor the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. In Kosovo the UN Security Council was unable to act in time; and the NATO-countries took it upon themselves to act in the face of a developing humanitarian catastrophe.
One would wish that a similar resolve had manifested itself in the days of Holocaust.
No one can guarantee that the International Community will ever again stand passive in the face of genocide and other gross and systematic violations of human rights. But we must uphold our resolve. Recent development may bode well for our hopes.
Tonight I also have to mention the catastrophe named Chechnya. We insist upon a peaceful solution – and we insist upon access for humanitarian aid.
We ought to have learned our lesson. We need the courage to care and the will to act. Our peoples must always be true defenders of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – and of mankind as a whole. We must act generously in order to eradicate poverty and secure a sound social development in all parts of the world.
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In October 1943, many Danes had the courage to care and the will to act. The monumental rescue of the Danish Jews to Sweden is visually remembered in the exhibition on the Israeli Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem and outside the American Holocaust Memorial in Washington.
The Danes said: 'We did it - because we had to do it'. It would not have been possible to rescue most Danish Jews if neighbouring Sweden had not had the courage to care and the will to act.
My good friend, the Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, will not have an
opportunity to take the floor today. Thus, I also wish to pay homage to that other Nordic country. Despite the presence of Nazi troops, especially in the North, Finland managed to protect its Jewish citizens during World War II. Not one single Finnish-born Jew was caught. A remarkable achievement.
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Today, we are faced with the global problem of refugees and displaced persons.
Our humanitarian obligations remain - to care and to act. The integration of ethnic or religious minorities in our societies is of immense importance.
In view of the past, the reluctance against the integration of foreigners and refugees – which we see in quite a few countries these days – is particularly saddening.
But even if we are able to cope with our refugees, we will only have dealt with part of the problem. Refugees are refugees for a reason. And most often, the reason is tragic. If we do not help remove the causes leading to despair; if we do not help restore peace and stability, there will always be refugees.
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Parents and grandparents, schools, educators – well, all of us - have an obligation to help younger generations understand democracy and human rights. We are responsible for sowing the seeds in order to secure the coming generations’ proper contribution to civil and civilised society.
Our aim is to instil the ‘courage to care’ and ‘the will to act’ in future generations.
Remember the past - use the lessons here and now - prepare for the future.
These are our obligations. As human beings – exactly because we truly are human beings.
May we all have the courage to care - and the will to act.