New York, 27 September 2005
Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks at memorial ceremony for Simon Wiesenthal
Rabbi Hier, [Wiesenthal Centre]
Rabbi Kermaier, [Fifth Avenue Synagogue]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to join you in remembering a great man who I know meant a lot to you, and who made an important impact on our world.
I remember vividly when I met Simon Wiesenthal in May 1997 in Vienna, at the very beginning of my term as Secretary-General. Although he was by then quite advanced in age, I was struck by the tremendous energy with which he was pursuing his work. I was impressed with his ability to hold in his mind, at the same time, memories of a horrific past and hopes for a better future – a future he himself was striving hard to bring about through the work of the renowned human rights organization that bears his name. Our meeting was all too short, but I came away more convinced than ever of the need for the United Nations to remain at the centre of the world's struggle for human rights and human dignity.
You are all aware of the landmarks that have been reached in that struggle: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Genocide convention, the establishment of the United Nations itself. In more recent years, we have seen the establishment of the International Criminal Court and ad hoc criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. And earlier this month, at the World Summit, world leaders agreed in clear and unambiguous language that they have a responsibility to protect civilian populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
But even as we make progress, we are painfully aware that we have fallen short; that we have seen genocide in our time, too; and that anti-Semitism still poisons too many societies. It is with this in mind that I support the efforts of Israel and a number of other states to establish, through a resolution of the UN General Assembly, an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The idea is to remind us all of the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and its universal lessons. As Simon Wiesenthal himself might well have said, we cannot just consign this evil to the past and forget about it. Every generation must be on its guard. As survivors such as Simon die, it falls to us to carry forward the work of remembrance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Simon devoted decades to this struggle. His work to pursue a proper reckoning for those who committed the crimes of the Holocaust sent an important message to the world that impunity should not be allowed to stand. We were all blessed to know him; we all benefited from his unwavering commitment to justice; and my wife's family was ever grateful to him for his support and his efforts on behalf of Raoul Wallenberg.
He is now gone. May he now, along with all those souls for whom he fought, rest in peace.