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World Leaders Gather in Jerusalem to Say 'Never Again' 75 Years After Auschwitz

01-23-2020
Courtesy AP

JERUSALEM, Israel, - It is a "Never again" heard around the world. For the first time in history, more than 40 senior world leaders are in Jerusalem to honor the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
  
US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Prince Charles, and the presidents of Austria, Italy, and Germany were among those gathered mourn with the Jewish State. 

The 5th annual World Holocaust Forum, entitled "Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism", commemorates January 27, 1945 - a day too many Jews never saw - the day Auschwitz was liberated by the Red army.

"On 27 January 1945, the gates of hell were opened. Auschwitz, the greatest machine of human destruction history has ever known, was liberated. The horror that the soldiers of the Red Army saw when they entered the camp was inconceivable," Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told world leaders at a three-hour-long ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. 

Watch the ceremony from Yad Vashem below:

The forum, which boasts as one of the largest diplomatic events in Israel's history, shut down entire sections of Jerusalem to make way for world leaders.

More than 10,000 police officers were also deployed in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. 

For Israel, this summit is more than a chance to remember, but an opportunity to show the world how far the Jewish people have come from their biblical capital.

Auschwitz is "the culmination of what can happen when our people have no voice, no land, no shield," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

"Today, we have a voice, we have a land, and we have a shield," he continued. "Time after time the strength of our arms, the courage of our soldiers, and the spirit of our people have prevailed against those who sought to destroy us."

While Israeli leaders thanked attendees for coming to Jerusalem to remember the Holocaust, they issued a solemn warning that the dark plague of anti-Semitism is rising again less than a century after the gates of Auschwitz were kicked down. 

"I have never been more concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism that I see all around us. Just 75 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life in Europe is again under threat. Jews are again afraid to walk the streets of Europe wearing Jewish symbols," said Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress. 

Kantor lamented that more than 80 percent of Jews feel unsafe in Europe today and more than 40 percent said they considered leaving the continent altogether. 

"In recent years, around 3% of Jews have emigrated from Europe annually because of anti-Semitism, meaning that in only 30 years, if the current trends persist or worsen, there could be no Jews left in Europe by 2050," he explained. 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he stands in Jerusalem today "laden with guilt."

"I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all, but I cannot say that when hatred is spreading, I cannot say that when anti-Semitism is hidden in criticism of Israeli policy, and I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from carrying out a massacre on Yom Kippur," he said, 

Steinmeier was referring to the deadly Halle synagogue shooting that occurred on Oct. 9 last year. During that attack, a far-right extremist killed two people and injured two others. The death toll was not higher because he could not break down the door of a synagogue. 

US Vice President Mike Pence and Netanyahu drew parallels between Nazi Germany and Iran and urged fellow leaders to make sure the Islamic republic's slogan of "death to Israel" never becomes a reality.

"In the same spirit  [of Holocaust remembrance], we must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of anti-Semitism," Pence said. "The one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and calls to wipe Israel off the map. The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev shared he was "surprised" that so many leaders came to Jerusalem. 

"It means we are creating a united front of leaders who came to express one very important statement and present their mission...to confront anti-Semitism," Shalev said. 

The summit comes at a time when many people are forgetting or are completely ignorant of the Holocaust.

A comprehensive survey released this week by the Claims Conference, a Jewish organization that negotiates compensation for victims of Nazi Germany found that most people in France did not know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. About 45% of millennials said they were unaware that France collaborated with the Nazis and 25% said they weren't sure if they even heard about the genocide against Jews. 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University reported last year that 2018 saw the largest number of Jews killed in anti-Semitic attacks in decades. They found that the biggest spike in violent acts against Jews occurred in western Europe.

The attacks have raised shock and disbelief among survivors - a generation of people who are quickly dying off. 

Netanyahu warned that anti-Semitism reaches far beyond the Jews. 

"Many recognize a simple truth. That what starts with the hatred of the Jews doesn't end with the Jews," he said.

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