UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday the Nazis tried to rob millions of Jews of their names before killing them during World War II — but at the inauguration of a U.N. installation with the names of 4.8 million Holocaust victims he said they failed and all those slaughtered “shall never be forgotten.”
On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the U.N. chief said the exhibition is a call to action because a million victims remain unidentified.
It is also a call to the world to “stem the tide of human cruelty and fight anti-Semitism and all forms of racism wherever and whenever it manifests itself,” Guterres said.
The big installation — “The Book of Names of Holocaust Victims” — was brought to U.N. headquarters in New York by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
It stands 6.56 feet (2 meters) high, 3.3 feet (one meter) wide, and is 26.45 feet (8 meters) long, with the names of 4.8 million victims so far identified by Yad Vashem arranged alphabetically on pages. There are blank pages at the end symbolizing the more than 1 million murdered Jews who are still unidentified.
Guterres recalled that when prisoners arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp, “their name was erased and replaced with a number burned on the forearm." After losing their names, he said, they lost their lives. But millions of their names have been collected, and their memory lives on.
Yad Vashem's chairman, Dani Dayan, spoke of two names in the book, his great uncles, saying the Nazis and their collaborators “driven by maniacal hatred of Jews, and anything they perceived as Jewish,” sought to exterminate every Jew everywhere and erase their names, identities and culture.
“We cannot revive even one of the millions that they murdered,” he said. “But we can — and do — restore the names and the stories of the victims.”
Yad Vashem is the biblical Hebrew term for "name and memorial,” and Dayan said the center collects every shred of information about the victims’ lives and deaths.
“We do this because the victims deserve no less,” he said.
But Yad Vashem also hopes that by recording and teaching their stories “we are helping to prevent horrors that even remotely might resemble the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, he said.
“History never repeats itself exactly, but phenomena of extreme anti-Semitism and other forms of racial hatred, aggressive violence, corrupt dictatorships are recurring,” Dayan said.
Dayan said to prevent another Shoah it is critical to remember its victims, and “that is why the Book of Names is here in the United Nations today, and why it is so significant.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, whose grandfather lost his wife and seven of his eight children in the Holocaust, said their names are inscribed in the book and “thanks to Yad Vashem their memory will live on forever.”
He also warned against “forces of evil” distorting and denying the Holocaust, saying these lies are proliferating “at terrible speeds” on the internet.
“The U.N., an institution that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, bears an integral, central responsibility to actively combat these phenomena of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” Erdan said. “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to call out this hate.”
Undersecretary-General Melissa Fleming told the inaugural event that “the exhibition stands in silence, but it speaks volumes.”
“It stands at the entrance of our United Nations as a reminder of our responsibility to counter anti-Semitism and every form of prejudice, violence and hatred,” she said.