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Human rights education helps protect all societies from the mindset that produced the Nazi Holocaust

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

“75 years after Auschwitz -
Holocaust Education and Remembrance for Global Justice”

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

27 January 2020

Today marks 75 years since the ending of the Holocaust – a crime of unprecedented and devastating inhumanity, during which six million Jews, and others, were brutally murdered.

It was on this day in 1945 that Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp, was liberated. It is estimated that more than 1.1 million people – nine out of ten of them Jews –were murdered in that one camp.

The victims of the Nazi extermination programme included millions of Jews, hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people, people with disabilities, homosexuals, prisoners of war, political dissidents and members of Resistance networks from all over occupied Europe.

The United Nations was established in response to the devastation of World War II and the murderous dehumanisation and hatred propagated by the Nazi regime. Its aim was to rebuild a world of justice and peace.

But today, people who are viewed as different are facing many forms of hatred, with even leaders fueling discrimination or violence against Jews, Muslims, migrants or other members of minority communities.

In many regions, we are witnessing increasing attacks targeting individuals and groups based on their presumed religion, ethnicity or appearance.

We cannot allow humanity to return to this unjust and cruel mindset. This cannot be who we are. I hail the women, men and young people around the world who demonstrate their courage, empathy and principle by standing up for tolerance and human rights in the face of efforts to dehumanize and demonize people.

To create a permanent rampart against the rise of hate will require thoughtful, principled education, not just of minds, but of hearts.

Human rights education helps people to understand universal human rights principles, and the lessons of history, as well as empowering them to hold their governments accountable. It fosters a sense of common humanity while aiding people to make informed choices; to resolve conflict in a non-violent manner; and to participate responsibly in their communities and societies.

Principled education of the heart and of the mind could have helped people push back against campaigns of persecution and violence in the past – and I believe every country and community can benefit from them today.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is co-sponsoring an exhibition at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Lest we forget”, which includes photographs of Holocaust survivors. While on outdoor display in Vienna last year, it was repeatedly subjected to anti-Semitic vandalism. In response, members of the public repaired the works and began holding vigils to protect them.