Anförande vid Forum för levande historia
Anförande i Stockholm, Sverige
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to Stockholm. A special welcome to my friend and colleague from Norway Jonas Gahr Störe. Norway is now holding the presidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF). And to Professor Yehuda Bauer who from the very beginning has been the academic advisor and a great inspirer for this initiative. Also a special welcome, in the absence of Göran Persson, to Per Nuder for the initiative that lead to the Stockholm Declaration, seeing the lack of knowledge among young people about the Holocaust and the general need to refresh our collective memory of one of the darkest moments in history of mankind.
This duty: Never to forget, always to remember, is a legacy every living generation has to preserve and pass over to their children and grandchildren. And this is one of the reasons why we are here today.
For us who were born after the war this becomes an even stronger imperative since those who can tell because they were present - the eyewitnesses - are leaving us one by one. Two weeks ago Miep Gies died 100 years old. It was she who, with such braveness and compassion, provided for Anne Frank and her family and saved her diary to the world.
In the light of the unique importance of Anne Franks' Diary, for rising the awareness of the destiny of so many of our fellow citizens, our friends and relatives, I believe this meeting has particular reasons to honour her memory.
The Holocaust can never be undone; however it must never be repeated. We have heard such statements many times, but still the "wrong" ethnicity, the "wrong religion" in many parts of the world is seen as an excuse for oppression and persecution.
Having personal experience of the devastating effects of ethnic conflicts and the various mechanisms leading up to war and ethnic cleansing, it is obvious that there are those who have not yet learned the lessons from the past. We know all too well how ordinary people, who live the most decent and peaceful lives, suddenly can change and commit horrendous atrocities. Harald Welzer is right when he quotes Primo Levi stating that "monsters are too few to be dangerous, ordinary people are much more dangerous".
But we also know that someone has to create the necessary conditions, making these acts of persecution and discrimination to a more or less normal and even routinely behaviour. When for example the pawn broker proudly notes, that future historians, "who only know about Jews by tales" will read the documents in the archives of Dortmund. And that they then will take note of the important contribution by the pawnshops to the solution of the so called "Jewish question", it shows how the Nazi propaganda had been able to make persecution of Jews to an act of good citizenship in the German society of the 30s and 40s.
Such conditions are ultimately set by the political leaders - and also to a certain extent by media. It is our rhetoric, our arguments and proposals; the way in which we present our cases and the motives for our suggestions which shape the moral content of a society. And in the final end much of the ethics guiding the ordinary man and woman who run the institutions.
I am personally convinced that the atrocities during the war on the Balkans in the nineties would never have been committed hadn't it been for the aggressive nationalistic rhetoric by certain political leaders.
In today's world xenophobia and religious fundamentalism are - together with drug related crime - the main driving forces behind organised violence. Traditional nationalism seem however to be a slightly less important factor than it used to be.
If this development should be interpreted as if the political leaders of the nation states show more restraint in the early 21st century is hard to say. But it certainly reflects a post modern trend that ethnical and religious identity becomes more and more important. A consequence of this trend is probably a dilution of authority making political leaders less important on the public arena, while other authorities gain influence on people's ideas and values.
In many respects a more pluralistic intellectual climate should only be welcomed. The free flow of people and ideas all over the globe, through the modern networks of communication, is one of the great success stories of globalisation. However the other side of the coin is that it might become more difficult to prevent the rise of destructive and hateful ideas and beliefs. To a certain extent such ideas might not even be accessible for ordinary political reasoning, whereas you need to communicate on totally different wave lengths when fighting ethnocentrism or religious fanatics.
Our mission, to educate coming generations about the Holocaust, should then be seen as a preventive war against future atrocities and persecution of minorities. We then use the history as a springboard in our efforts to create a better and more humane society.
I make this point because history is not always a constructive force. In the Balkans stories of the past have often been more of a trap, feeding feelings of revenge than a source of inspiration for a better future. There are still minorities in South East Europe that can't feel safe from being harassed. There is still a long way to go before people in the whole of Europe are likely to see the positive side of ethnical pluralism and cultural diversity.
The more important there is to give attention to the positive examples. Here in Stockholm we are happy to host one of these institutions in the same time being a symbol of reconciliation and a force for tolerance and open-mindedness in the future. It is the Jewish educational centre Paideia, which promotes the revival of Jewish culture in Europe.
Besides the human disaster the Holocaust was a European cultural tragedy of epic dimensions. It deprived future generations of Europeans of one of the richest and most viable cultures in human history. It made our Europe so much poorer and so much less vibrant. It was a loss that can never be compensated neither by forgiveness nor by any sort of damage reparations.
Paideia is a Pan European project offering a way of retaking a lost Jewish identity as a part of the European mind. It is a great idea with small means of how to shape the future based on our common European history before the Second World War.
The last paragraph of the Stockholm declaration from 2000 states the commitment to "plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past". If we allow these seeds to grow the bitter past will gradually be a better past and the soil of history steadily more fertile.
Maybe this is what has happened during the last decades when we have seen the wall in Berlin torn down, the iron curtain dismantled and the dream of Europe's reunification come true. The seeds planted in the 1950s by the first post war generation have now grown to plants some of them even ready to harvest.
If that is the case, and I believe it is, out of this great tragedy has come a better Europe. And after all this is the most proper way to honour the millions of victims who perished in the ghettos and in the camps of the 20th century Europe: to use the memories in order to endow the future with something meaningful out of the meaningless.