World leaders and invited guests in the Warsaw Ghetto Square during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum
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24 January 2020
At the invitation of the President of the State of Israel, some 50 members of royalty, presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary leaders from Europe, North America and Australia attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, entitled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” on 23 January 2020.
Organized by the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, in cooperation with Yad Vashem and at the invitation of the President of Israel Reuven "Ruvi" Rivlin, the Forum took place in a specially erected marquis in Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Square (the site of the annual Opening State Ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day). The Forum was held in advance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the UN-sanctioned International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January.
The ten speakers at the event represented the State of Israel, the Fifth World Holocaust Forum hosts, and the four Allied countries who liberated Europe from Nazi tyranny. Due to his country's special obligation in Holocaust remembrance and the fight against contemporary antisemitism, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also addressed the audience. "I stand here laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt," he acknowledged. "I wish I could say that our remembrance has made us immune to evil."
"Today we remember what happens when the powerless cry for help and the powerful refuse to answer," said US Vice President Michael R. Pence, and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin warned that the memory of the Holocaust "will serve as a lesson and a warning only if it remains fully intact." "We must never cease to be appalled, nor moved by the testimony of those who lived through [the Shoah]," stated HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales. "Their experience must always educate, guide and warn us." French President Emmanuel Macron declared: "In our history, antisemitism always preceded the weakening of democracy."
Israel's President Reuven "Ruvi" Rivlin spoke about "The Age of Responsibility" being an ongoing challenge, while Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that "confronting antisemitism in all its forms protects all societies." World Holocaust Forum Foundation President Dr. Moshe Kantor hoped for a united effort to "plant the seeds of trust and belief," while Holocaust survivor and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau called the evening "a bridge to the survival of mankind." Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev's address closed the first portion of the event. After illustrating how Holocaust remembrance is "a lighthouse, warning of the dangers of extreme racist ideologies," and stating that "memory must be translated into action," he concluded with a message for the future: "Your presence gives us hope. Hope of overcoming Holocaust denial and distortion. Hope of securing individual rights and human dignity in all societies. And hope that the world we entrust to our children will be kinder and more tolerant than the one we inherited from our parents."
Interspersed throughout the proceedings were musical interludes performed by an international orchestra, conducted by world-renowned conductor Vladimir Spivakov and accompanied by an international choir.
After Shalev's speech, a memorial ceremony was held, during which Holocaust survivors Rose Moskowitz from the United States and Colette Avital, Chairperson of the Center Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, lit a memorial torch. All the nation leaders then commemorated the victims of the Holocaust by laying wreaths at the foot of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument. Cantor Shai Abramson recited the "El Maleh Rahamim" memorial prayer, followed by Holocaust survivor Naftali Deutsch who said "Kaddish," the mourner's prayer. The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence as the delegates stood together on the platform in front of Nathan Rapaport's "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising" monument, before the singing of Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah" (Hope).
The World Holocaust Forum, which was translated simultaneously into six languages, was broadcast live via satellite feed worldwide and via Yad Vashem's website and Facebook page.
During the ceremony, a fully equipped Press Center operated from Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies, with over 500 members of the international press. Alongside all the major Israeli TV, radio and internet channels, other major international media outlets set up studios in the School, and Yad Vashem experts as well as survivors were on hand to be interviewed by global media representatives throughout the historic event.
In advance of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, fifty heads of state and world leaders who were invited to the event wrote letters stating their fervent and profound pledge to remember the Holocaust and to take measures to combat rising antisemitism. These statements were collated in a historic book which was presented to the leaders and guests attending the Forum.
Among the letters in the book are submissions from US President Donald Trump, Albanian President Ilir Meta, King Phillipe of Belgium President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Ukraine's President Volodmyur Zelenskyy, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Many of the leaders focused on how to preserve the memory of the Holocaust as a solemn act, together with the urgent need to confront and prevent antisemitism and other forms of hatred.
As stated in the Foreword by Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and World Holocaust Forum Foundation President Dr. Moshe Kantor, “This book impressively illustrates the constructive potential of truthful remembrance and forthright action. It conveys a clear and vital message – Holocaust distortion and antisemitism have no legitimate place at anytime, anywhere in the world.”