Having the courage to say «no»

Message by President Simonetta Sommaruga on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of the policy of extermination unleashed by National Socialist Germany. Over a million women, men and children died in this place. The Nazis’ anti-Semitic racial mania knew no bounds. When the Soviet army liberated the camp on 27 January 1945, there were very few survivors, and those who had escaped death were marked by the hunger and violence they had experienced. The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and the ruins of the gas chambers remind us of the immeasurable horrors of that time.

This year, 75 years after the camp was liberated, we remember the millions of Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust. We also remember the Sinti, Roma and Yenish, and the many others who suffered under the National Socialist regime and were victims of its inhuman policies. Of the Swiss nationals also imprisoned in the concentration camps, almost half died there. I would like to remember them too today. And my thoughts are with the Swiss survivors, who were too often treated coldly and dismissively after the war.

News of the genocide of the Jews leaked out during the war years. But only a few spoke out against it – and the few that did so were often not heard, or were said to be untrustworthy. «Whoever saves a human life saves the whole world,» is a saying in the Jewish religious tradition. How many lives could have been saved if, back then, more men and women in Europe had said «no» to anti-Semitism and racism?

I hope that we, in our liberal democracies, can prevent similar crimes from being committed ever again. That we can stand up to unjust regimes bravely and with the courage of our convictions. We cannot undo the mistakes of the past. But we can learn from them, with an open and critical eye. On my visit today to the remembrance ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau, I am accompanied by Holocaust survivors and by two students. Because I believe that we should keep memory alive. That is why Switzerland also supports the permanent preservation of the memorial site in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am pleased that people of all generations are committed to ensuring that we do not forget. We wish to mark our solidarity with all the victims of the Holocaust.

Human dignity is a precious, vulnerable commodity. It must be protected, even against violence by the state. Every human being is unique. Courage means saying «no» when injustice becomes a state doctrine. We owe this to the victims of Nazi persecution – but also to ourselves, in order to ensure a future worth living for all of us.