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Speech at the Remembrance Ceremony at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Göran Persson

Speech at the Remembrance Ceremony at the Great Synagogue of Stockholm by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Göran Persson

Ladies and Gentlemen!
Let me read a poem.
"The last, the very last,So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.Perhaps if the sun's tears would singagainst a white stone...

Such, such a yellowIs carried lightly 'way up high.It went away I'm sure because it wished tokiss the world goodbye.

For seven weeks I've lived in here,Penned up inside this ghettoBut I have found my people here.The dandelions call to meAnd the white chestnut candles in the court.Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.Butterflies don't live in here,in the ghetto."

This is how Pavel Friedmann – just a young boy in June 1942 – described the butterfly he never saw again. We don't know much about him. Three years later, the poem was found together with the sketches and diaries of other Jewish children in Theresienstadt. By then Pavel had been deported to - and killed in - Auschwitz.

I read Pavel's poem today. I read it in remembrance of him and the thousands and thousands of other children murdered in the Holocaust.

I am able to read it thanks to a secret hiding place, thanks to those who found it, thanks to a child's irrepressible will to express his feelings.

He was not alone. In ghettos and camps, in hidden away cellars and in ordinary homes, people wrote.

Some, like Emmanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto, created whole archives of systematically collected documents and messages about life in the ghetto. One of his own notes says:

"Because the quota wasn't met, the Germans seized people on the street, drove them directly into the wagons, not to the Umschlag but straight into the wagons - 12,000 killed during resettlement."

Ringelblum took part in the ghetto uprising, but only after making sure that his archive was well hidden.

I read his note today. I read it in remembrance of thousands and thousands of men, woman and children who died in the ghettos. I read it in remembrance of all those who suffered and died in camps, in execution pits and during "transportation".

I am able to read it thanks to some buried milk-cans, thanks to all those people who wrote in order to pass the knowledge down to future generations.

Some of these hidden messages testify to horrors far beyond our comprehension, as does the testimony of Salmen Lewenthal, member of a "Sonderkommando". I don't want to read from it. One of his intensely frightening stories describes how 600 Jewish boys were hounded into the gas chamber, blows raining down upon them from the smiling SS soldiers. In the last sentence of it, there is a question:

"Didn't they have children of their own?"

For eighteen years Salmen's words waited to be uncovered. They were found in 1962, buried in the sand near the ruins of Krematorium III in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I read these words today. I read them in remembrance of all those who, like Salmen and so many survivors, have had the strength to speak of the unspeakable. I read them in remembrance of all those who were forced to endure the unthinkable.

I am able to read these words today, thanks to a jar buried in the soil, thanks to those who found and examined the 75 sheets of paper inside it, thanks to the courage of Salmen Lewenthal.

And I realise - and I know that you realise - that fifty-five years later, Salmen's question remains still unanswered. I know you realise today that we have to make every effort to try to understand.

I also realise that many testimonies are buried in closed archives all over the world.
Let us all - governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses - make a pledge: to open up the archives to enlighten the Holocaust!

Let us know more about what happened to the Jews. Let us know about the genocide of the Roma, the mass murder of disabled persons and the persecution and murder of homosexuals, dissidents and Jehovah's Witnesses.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This day marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

This day, the 27th of January, will also be the official Swedish remembrance day for the Holocaust. This proposal was put forward by a committe headed by Salomo Berlinger.
I'm happy to make the announcement. But I would have been even happier if I had been able to tell the late Jan Nisell who until his death last year chaired the Jewish Central Council.

The Jewish Community and the Central Council have been excellent cooperation partners in our common work on Living History. I am confident that this state of affairs will continue under the chairmanship of Lena Posner Körösi.

The new remembrance day, the establishment of a permanent Forum for Living History, new research about our past as well as about anti-democratic forces of today will enable our democracies to stand stronger in the future.

The evil view of humanity that made the Holocaust possible did not just cease to exist at the end of the Second World War. The ideology of hatred and xenophobia forms the basis for new political parties that are now exploiting the democratic system to gain power. We can see it happening in Sweden. We can see it happening all over Europe.

As the Chancellor of Austria, Viktor Klima, said yesterday evening:

"He who does not admit that the Holocaust was the worst crime of the 20th century, has no role to play in politics".

Let me say it loud and clear: I fully agree!

* * *

Dear friends!

In the summer of 1941, the 81 year-old Jewish historian, Simon Dubnow, was moved to the ghetto in Riga, where in December he was shot.

During his final days he kept telling the people he met:

"Jews, make sure that everything is written down and recorded".

As legend has it, these were also the words he cried out right before the deadly bullet hit its target:

"Jews, write and record!"

They did. They wrote, they concealed, they saved.

55 years after Auschwitz, new testimony continues to emerge from Holocaust survivors. I know that many of you here in this Synagogue tonight have spoken, written, narrated.

Many survivors have told of how countless years went by before the unspeakable could be spoken. I am eternally grateful that you were finally able to. Your testimony is absolutely vital if coming generations are to have any chance of understanding – as far as it's possible to understand.

One of many very strong impressions of the conference was the meeting with the cellist and survivor, Anita Lasker Wallfish, and her son and grandsons. Anita survived solely thanks to the fact that she played the right instrument. They needed a base instrument in the women's orchestra in Auschwitz.

Seeing these three generations playing together is as moving as it is telling. If Anita had played a different instrument - what a terrible loss that would have been. The people who played the wrong instrument, the people who played no instrument at all - what a terrible loss. A loss which spans from generation to generation to eternity.

Soon, no living generation will have a tangible connection to those who survived. It is for their sake, and for the sake of their children that it is so vital to continue to write and record. It is for the sake of coming generations that it is so vital to gather more knowledge and learn from the knowledge we have already acquired. It is for their sakes that we must never forget – if we want to avoid genocides in the future.

The Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust is now under way. Today survivors, researchers, scholars and politicians have worked side by side to discuss these burning issues. How can we ourselves learn and how can we teach others? How can we foster remembrance, and how can we foresee and prevent genocide in the future?

I am sure that we will take our leave equipped with new insights and a fresh spirit of community, and united in a common desire. We will have exchanged ideas and we will stand better prepared to confront racism, antisemitism and xenophobia in modern society.

The purpose of the conference is three-fold: remembrance, research and education. And so is my message to you here tonight.

Today we know what Simon Dubnow said to the people he met on the street. Today we know – as far as it is possible to know – what life must have been like in the Riga ghetto. We know these things because people recorded and preserved that knowledge.

Few events in history are as well-documented as the Holocaust.

We know so much.

And yet we know so little.

In the black depths of the Holocaust, questions emerge that are probably impossible to answer. The grim dilemmas posed by the Holocaust do not provide any ready-made solutions. New pieces are constantly being added to the terrible puzzle that was the Holocaust.

Finally, no matter how much we think we know, one question always remains.

And we hear the echo of Salmen Lewenthal's question buried by Krematorium III, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But deep down inside, we all know why Pavel so longed to see a butterfly.

Thank you.

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