Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the United Nations that it was significant that the ceremony was taking place at a time when antisemitism is once again clouding the world's horizon. "The lesson must be," he said, "the maintenance of human rights, and war against all forms of antisemitism... We are gathered here on behalf of those who remember, those who have already forgotten, and those who have never known."
"For six million Jews, the establishment of the State of Israel and of the United Nations occurred too late," Minister Shalom said. "The remaining 'dry bones' of those who survived came to life through the establishment of the State of Israel... We are here to ensure that such a terrible thing never happens again."
Holocaust survivors Maj.-Gen. Yosse Peled, former Knesset speaker Dov Shilansky, and stage and film artist Gila Almagor were part of the official Israeli delegation to the special General Assembly session.
Though close to 150 out of 191 member nations agreed that the UN should hold the commemoration, the hall was only half-full during the ceremony.
Speaking about the soldiers who arrived to liberate the Auschwitz death camp in early 1945, Minister Shalom said that "nothing could have prepared them for what they would witness there." He quoted one of the soldiers who wrote, "As I walked through the barracks, I heard a voice, and I turned around and I saw a living skeleton talk to me. He said, 'Thank G-d you've come.' ... Did you ever talk to a skeleton that talked back? That's what I was doing."
"If Israel represents one heroic attempt to find a positive response to the atrocities of the Second World War," Minister Shalom told the UN gathering, "the United Nations represents another. By convening here today in this special historic session, we honor the victims, we pay respect to the survivors and we pay tribute to the liberators."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan opened the session by saying, "The evil which murdered 6,000,000 Jews in the death camps still threatens us today." He also pointed out the "terrible things" occurring in Sudan, but said that the "tragedy of the Jewish people was unique. Two thirds of all Europe's Jews, including one and a half million children, were murdered. An entire civilization, which had contributed far beyond its numbers to the cultural and intellectual riches of Europe and the world, was uprooted, destroyed, laid waste."
Elie Wiesel, an internationally-known Holocaust survivor representative, blamed Western countries for waiting so long before liberating those Jews who had not yet died in the death camps.
Minister Shalom warned of rising anti-Semitism, textbook dehumanization of Jews and Israelis, and "forces of evil for whom human life - whether that of the civilians they target, or of their own youth whom they use as weapons – is of no value."
Fittingly, the Jewish Agency reported Sunday of a sharp increase in physical attacks against Jews in Great Britain, mostly by Moslems and Arabs. Two synagogues were burned last year, according to the Agency, and several more were saved from attempted arson. The report noted "Molotov cocktails [thrown at] cars in London [and] dozens of physical attacks on streets, mainly against children and elderly people in orthodox areas."
Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the only Arab speaker, took advantage of the opportunity to knock Israel by mentioning "one people dominat[ing] another, deny[ing] the latter many of its most basic rights, and so, with the passage of time, also degrade[ing] it as a people."
Other speakers included U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, China's U.N. Ambassador, Italy's Senate Speaker, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who said, "For my country, [the Holocaust] signifies the absolute moral abomination, a denial of all things civilized without precedent or parallel."