Remembrance as a bridge

Bern, 27.01.2017 - Message from the President of the Swiss Confederation Doris Leuthard to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January 2017

On 27 January, which this year marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we remember the victims of Nazi persecution. Today, Auschwitz stands as a symbol of the great number of people who suffered and lost their lives in the many concentration camps in Europe. The few survivors, whose terrible experiences left their physical and mental mark often for life, settled in a variety of places. Switzerland was one of them.

Many discovered that their families had not survived the persecution, and coming to terms with the loss of relatives and friends was a further trauma facing large numbers of Holocaust survivors. The psychological scars are deep, and it often took decades before the survivors were able to break their silence about the Nazi atrocities. Their courage to face these traumas once again deserves our utmost respect.

"Also, I tell these stories for my grandchildren, for my friends, for all who want to know something of the Holocaust of yesterday, and for all who want to prevent the Holocaust of tomorrow."

These were the words of a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Elisabeth Sommer-Lefkovits, who came to Switzerland in the post-war period. In 1994, she published her memories of the persecution suffered by her family. She died a short time later. The years since then have seen the publication of many more survivors' memoirs examining the Holocaust. Indeed, a new edition of eye-witness accounts, illustrated by Gerhard Richter, will be presented this very day in Bern.

With each year that passes, younger generations have an ever-declining opportunity to hear first-hand reports of what happened. The many tragedies which continue to take place around the world threaten to push remembrance of the Holocaust into the background. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is intended to show that we have not forgotten the millions of victims of Nazi persecution, and that we remain vigilant so that nothing like it is ever repeated.

It is an aim shared by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which was founded in 1998. Switzerland has been a member since 2004, and will this year assume its chairmanship. In this role, Switzerland plans to focus on projects that bear witness to the memories of Holocaust survivors, and that also make them available via new media that appeal in particular to younger people. With its chairmanship of the IHRA, our country wants to help preserve the memory of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime against the Jewish community, the Roma, the Sinti and other minorities, thereby building a bridge between 'then', and 'now'.

Minorities are an important element of cultural and social diversity in Switzerland. This means that we have an obligation to keep our eyes open. In fact, today should also remind us that marginalisation, racism and anti-Semitism are still everyday experiences for large numbers of people. In Switzerland, values such as freedom and legal certainty, equal rights and tolerance are part of our national identity – and these values should be applied equally to all sections of the population.

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