People are starting to ask this question, 70 years after the end of WWII, presumably because there have been so many more recent genocides in hot blood and such a cold-blooded state determination by the Nazis to destroy a whole religious culture, every last man, woman and child, seems an unthinkable crime from the past. I believe this is completely wrong.
In 2000 in Stockholm, for the first time, 46 governments came together to assert just the opposite; that "We must strengthen the moral commitment of our peoples, and the political commitment of our governments, to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences." These world leaders understood that the Holocaust was a catastrophe which had challenged the very foundations of our civilization. It had left an indelible scar in Europe but had global significance and would always be a touchstone for understanding, and teaching, the human capacity for evil and for good.
Recognising that remembering the Holocaust is a political responsibility of all governments and peoples, not just the natural instinct of the communities that had suffered, governments committed themselves to international cooperation in Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Nearly 40 countries are now working together in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, currently under my British chairmanship, to share good practice and further mutual understanding. IHRA brings together hundreds of academics, educators, curators, experts, survivors and policy-makers to form an organisation which is uniquely placed to effect real change on a political level.
To do this, all countries have to face up honestly to the dark periods of their own national history, to their own collaboration, complicity or reluctance to do the right thing in response. And we have to combat Holocaust denial, denigration and trivialisation in all its forms. If we do not nip hate speech, prejudice and antisemitism in the bud, we shall see the political life of our societies coarsened and greater scope given to those who peddle hatred and violence. We shall never understand our past if we allow special pleading to blur historic responsibilities or obscure a clear understanding of what awful things happened, and why, during what remains to this day one of the watershed moments in human history.
To teach is to remember. To research is to remember. To commemorate is to remember. And to remember is to try to learn the lessons of the past. This is not just an annual obligation. It is a daily duty. As Winston Churchill said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
On 27 January 2015, IHRA's 31 member countries, 8 observer countries and 7 permanent international partners will come together to make a joint statement to reaffirm their commitment to the Stockholm Declaration