Tribute from the European youth to the people who saved the honour of humanity
during the Holocaust
(Tirana, Albania, 5 September 2012)
Speech by President Keith Whitmore
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
Council of Europe
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are here today to pay tribute to the people who showed the ultimate courage during the reign of horror and inhumanity – the courage to risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to save others, often total strangers, from the brutal machine of mass murder.
The Righteous of Europe knew no nationality. They knew no religion – they were Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and others. As this continent plunged into the darkness of the Holocaust, they kept alive the light of hope and dignity, and the darkest hours of Europe became also a moment of ultimate unity. The one thing that united the Righteous was their humanity, and the one commitment that they shared was to saving other human beings.
What they saved was much more than lives. In a time when it seemed that darkness had won, they showed what it means to be human, and safeguarded humankind’s most fundamental values and its honour. In a time of despair, they gave hope, love and faith – hope for a future free from hate and violence; love for others more than their own lives; and faith in the ultimate triumph of human dignity.
Today, we celebrate their memory on a continent that enjoys freedom and democracy, a continent that made human rights and equality for all its central values, and this is the best tribute we can give to the Righteous of Europe. This means that their suffering and sacrifice were not in vain, and that their hopes came true.
On the ashes of a continent devastated by war, a new Europe was built on the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a Europe free of the machinery of death that was sowing terror just less than seventy years ago. In the wake of the war, the Council of Europe was founded, to bring about European unity and to stand in defence of democratic principles. More than six decades of the Council’s work have created a human rights protection system unique in the world and a democratic system where governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities and civil society work together as indispensable parts of the whole.
This work of European construction made possible economic integration and the European Union, and this work is on-going. Today, we need to build a Europe of Citizens, a Europe of Cities and Regions, a Europe of genuine participation and social justice, genuine inclusion and tolerance. And this will also be our tribute to the sacrifice of the Righteous.
Most importantly, we must keep alive their memory and pass the values they upheld at the risk of their very existence on to future generations. Those who forget the past do not have a future, and teaching remembrance of the Holocaust is a crucial safeguard against history repeating itself. Today, it is alarming to hear extremist political discourse and to see xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of religious intolerance on the rise in Europe once more.
It is a stark reminder to all of us that that the rights and freedoms we are enjoying are not a given, and that even absolute values can be put into question unless they are constantly upheld and defended. All tiers of governance, civil society and the private sectors have an important role to play in this process, but as President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, I should stress that it is at the grassroots, in our towns and cities, in the physical proximity of the reminders of the terrible past where teaching remembrance to younger generations must take root.
This is why it is heartening to see the young people of Europe pay their respect to the memory of those whose sacrifice made today’s freedom possible. It is the youth of today that will defend and fight for Europe’s ideals and carry on the spirit of compassion, altruism and self-sacrifice that saved humanity seventy years ago. It is to the younger generations that we will commend our hope for the Europe of tomorrow – the hope for freedom and justice that the Righteous bestowed on us, and that we celebrate today.
I wish to thank the organisers of this Tribute, and in particular the Albanian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, national authorities and the City of Tirana, for bringing us together today and for their efforts to keep alive the memory of the Righteous of Europe.
May we be worthy of their memory.