The Insult of Oblivion Should Be Added to this Betrayal of Human Values
The Insult of Oblivion Should Be Added to this Betrayal of Human
Auschwitz : Speech by M. Jacques Chirac, President of the
French Republic, on the occasion of the official opening of the new exhibition
in the French Pavilion of the
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
Poland. 27 January 27, 2005 (Excerpts).
Source: Élysée Palace, Paris.
Clkick here to see the pictures of "Block 20" (the French Pavilion).
60 years ago, on 27 January 1945, when the soldiers of the Red Army first
entered Auschwitz and Birkenau, what remained of those millions of men, women
and children, of those millions of lives shattered by the holocaust?
Through our presence here this morning, through this exhibition and the
international ceremony this afternoon, we testify to the fact that there remains
today the remembrance of those lives, each worthy of our deepest respect. We are
haunted by the memory of their humanity. Testimony of their martyred lives
imposes a duty upon us.
Here, unheard-of abysses were revealed. The criminal insanity of Nazism came to
cast doubt on the very essence of humanity.
Here, a State apparatus led an enterprise of extermination that was scientific,
systematic and methodical, one for which no comparison exists. The extermination
of an entire people across a whole continent.
Evil is embodied in this place; it breaks our hearts and will burn forever in
Today, in silence and profoundly moved, we come to reflect and to pay our
respects to all the victims of the death camps. Going beyond words that can
never be enough, we have come to express our determination before history. Our
determination to bear witness, determination to pass on the memory. Our
determination to honour. And our determination to act.
It is that duty that brings you here this morning. And we can see the price you
have paid for your presence and the courage with which you are here to fight
against time, time that slips away, that erases. Because of you, the younger
generations can hear the voice of truth. You force humankind to think the
unthinkable. You are passing on the torch of remembrance. I say thank you to you
in particular, dear Simone Veil. I thank you, dear Henry Bulawko. Through you,
it is to all those who were witness to the unimaginable that I wish to express
the admiration and gratitude of France.
I wish also to express my thanks to the many eminent public figures who have
worked to design and create this new exhibition in the French Pavilion. Thank
you for giving so much of yourselves to this essential contribution to the
furtherance of truth. Thanks are due also to the Polish authorities, whose
assistance has made possible the successful conclusion of this indispensable
task of remembrance.
In order to express the reality of deportation, you have chosen to illustrate
this Tragedy through the fate of individuals. In this “Block 20”, where the
camp’s sinister hospital was housed, you have picked out lives that, although
singular, are no less representative.
In the emblematic figure of Pierre Masse, we can see those Jews who were
“Republicans through and through”. Born in the Lorraine, a lawyer, a veteran of
the Great War, a parliamentarian, a government minister, he wrote, before dying,
gassed, after his arrival here: “I shall meet my end as what I have always been:
a soldier of France and of the Law”.
In Georgy Halpern, we see the unbearable fate of the children. Fleeing Austria,
his parents thought to find refuge in France. He was arrested in the children's
home in the village of Izieu. Georgy died, gassed, on his arrival in Auschwitz
on 18 April 1944. He was nine years old.
In Jean Lemberger we see embodied that generation of activists for whom the
Communist Party was more than a commitment, it was a life choice. A Jew born in
Poland, he was arrested in Paris in 1941, a year before the appalling Vel-d'Hiv
round-up. Released, and then rearrested by the French police for his resistance
activities, deported to Auschwitz and from there to Flossembürg, he was set free
by the Americans.
In Charlotte Delbo and the women on the train of 24 January 1943, we see the
activists and the patriots. They entered Auschwitz singing the Marseillaise...
Of those 230 heroines, just 49 survived.
And finally, Sarah and Hersch Beznos, with their children and grandchildren:
another decimated family among so many. They arrived on train number 49 on 2
March 1943, along with several elderly passengers, more than 90 years old...
their fate, simply because they were Jews, was to be exterminated, in the
holocaust, that absolute crime against humanity.
To honour their memory, to honour the memory of all those deportees who died
tragically in this place of suffering and extermination: that is the duty of all
peoples who refuse to accept that the insult of oblivion should be added to this
betrayal of human values.
Jews whose arrival in France is lost in the mists of time; Jews who came from
Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans seeking asylum in the cradle of human
rights; Jews who became French in their hearts, their minds and their language
thanks to the Alliance Israélite Universelle, whose president I salute here, my
friend Professor Ady Steg, who knows the respect in which I hold him; Jews of
all ages, all social classes, all backgrounds, who contributed so much to our
country, to our culture, to our civilization, caught up in the criminal madness
of the Nazis: your children, your families, your fellow countrymen remember you.
Remembrance of you, of that “world that once was”, is for France more than
simply painful. It is an awareness of error. It is a demand for acceptance of
Resistance workers, political and trade-union activists, patriots, all condemned
because they were driven by a certain concept of humanity, the nation, society,
France, your motherland, deported for refusing to submit, to compromise: you
will be forever in our hearts. I thank all those who have worked to give back
their names to each and every one. Their names, the only grave markers history
can offer these men, women and children.
The exhibition that I have just visited with profound emotion expresses the
universality of each of these individual destinies, to which I wish to pay
homage in the name of our nation. When we remember each and every one of them,
we give them justice. We prevail over their executioners, who promised them
Action, that was the choice, in the past, of those thousands of Righteous Among
the Nations, men and women of France, from every social class, every faith, who
defied every danger to remain loyal to the universal values that have made our
country great. To say no when there was still time. The Righteous Among the
Nations remain with us as an example, for us all and for our young people, an
example of the commitment, the individual ethic, the fraternity that are the
sole source of the strength and exemplary qualities of a people.
Action, today and tomorrow, means building a society in which such a monstrous,
criminal enterprise is simply unthinkable.
We do so in France by firmly maintaining the demand for remembrance, a political
duty of truth and responsibility.
It is in this spirit that in 1995 our country acknowledged the reality of its
history. The nature of that for which it had been responsible. It is in this
spirit also that our teachers have the duty and the task of handing down
untiringly to all our young people the whole truth about those years. Reminding
them of our history to ensure that the memory never fades. Enabling them to
share in values of tolerance and respect for human dignity.
It is in this spirit that we shall deploy the whole rigour of the law implacably
against all those who set out to deny the horror of what occurred. To deny the
reality of the occupation and the deportations. To deny the reality of the gas
chambers and the crematoria. To deny the reality of the holocaust. Wherever the
unacceptable raises its head once again, we shall combat it resolutely.
We also take action on our continent, through our determined commitment to build
a Europe standing together in peace, freedom and democracy. A Europe that is
strong and proud of the humanist principles that unite its members, aware of all
the tragedies that have punctuated its long history. A Europe in which hatred,
intolerance and fanaticism wither on the vine. Here more than in any other
place, in this seat of remembrance, we can see just how much Europe is, first
and foremost, a shared memory.
We take action around the world through our resolute commitment to peace, the
defence of human rights and justice.
It is for that reason that France mobilized her energies to support the adoption
of the Rome Statute in 1998 and why she will continue to support the principle
and the permanent implementation of international criminal justice. Some forms
of interference are legitimate. Crimes against humanity must find refuge and
France will never fail to shoulder her responsibilities, on her national
territory and in the international community, in order to prevent such returns
to the shadowy darkness of history.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m thinking particularly of the young people from
Longjumeau who have come with us today.
Will we be capable of keeping faith with the memory of the victims of the
Will we be capable of handing down to future generations the painful heritage of
the past century, in all its appalling truth?
Will we be capable of drawing from history lessons for the building of a society
based on respect, dialogue and tolerance?
In answer to these questions, listen to those Charlotte Delbo, and all her
companions in suffering, ask us:
“Oh you who know
Did you know that hunger makes bright the eyes
That thirst dims their shine
“Oh you who know
Did you know that you can see your mother dead
And yet not cry
“Oh you who know
Did you know that in the morning you want to die
And in the evening you are afraid...
Did you know that suffering has no limits
Horror no frontiers
Did you know
You who know”
Ladies and gentlemen,
We shall never abandon our idea of humanity and its dignity.
Conscious of all the irreparable acts this place has witnessed, we shall go away
this evening more determined than ever to build a future of tolerance, justice