We went to Auschwitz this Friday, my wife Karin and I.
Sixty seven years have passed since that day, January 27th 1945. The day of liberation.
We took part in the annual ceremony. First indoors, then outdoors at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Close to the railway tracks, the gas chambers and the incinerators.
All of us stood there in front of the monument in remembrance, including former prisoners. Elderly ladies hugging each other, elderly men from the generation of my parents. Individuals like me and my family. And like the ones that perished in the holocaust.
So many of the speeches came back to the same message – never again. And being there, seeing the remains of hell on earth, reconfirms the simple insight: that nothing could be more important than making this message reality for all future generations.
At the same time my thoughts took me back to Kigali. The genocide museum that I visited eight years ago. And especially the department called “Tomorrow lost”. Pictures of individual children with names and stories, perhaps hobbies, perhaps favourite dishes – what were they like before they were murdered in the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.
We were told that more than 1,1 million people were killed in Auschwitz. One fourth of them were children. In the museum we saw some of their clothes, shoes, hair.
For them tomorrow was lost.
Fifty years later tomorrow was lost for thousands of other children in another continent. Genocide following genocide. Not taking place totally without warning. The dehumanising propaganda was there in both cases.
Anti-semitism, xenophobia, racism. Roots to the evil of our time. When we fail to fight it, when we fail to protect human dignity and human rights, when we fail to see and engage in individuals, the risk of repetition is always there.
I left Auschwitz determined to come back every year I serve as Ambassador to Poland. But also with an unforgettable impression of hope, conveyed by the survivor Pnina Segal from Israel telling us her story of liberation at six years of age. And the story of her life, now with three children and ten grandchildren.
Her speech, her message, her appearance on stage were simply remarkable. She was shining, in spite of the nightmares of her childhood.
I will never forget it. Neither the horrors she must have been through, nor the hope she still was so able to communicate.