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The gates of Auschwitz were opened precisely seven decades ago today. To the survivors of the concentration camp, safety and freedom must have seemed unreal. For their liberators, the sight was appalling. For humankind, for all of us, that moment still signifies a turning point in one of the darkest periods of our history.
Millions of innocent people lost their lives as victims of the Holocaust. According to different estimates, more than half of the entire Jewish community at the time – around six million people – died as victims of genocide. People belonging to other minorities were also murdered alongside Jews.
We must never forget that period of our history. It is important to be aware not only of the number of victims, but the stories of the people who lost their lives in the Holocaust: who they were, their occupations, what they would have liked to become when they grew up? It is vital that we listen to those who remain amongst us to tell the story of that terrible period. We need to be aware of the legacy of the Holocaust that we still carry with us, and how the course of that history is expressed in our surroundings. All of this will help us to remember.
Now that seventy years have passed, we cannot allow ourselves to forget. The Holocaust must always remain in humankind’s common memory – to prevent anything similar from happening again. That is one of the reasons why it is important that we have gathered here today to pay our respects to and remember the victims of persecution.
We have recently again been shocked by what we have heard and seen. Three weeks ago, people were brutally killed in Paris due to their opinions and work. The attack on the Jewish shop in the related course of events was no coincidence. Innocent people are also continuously being killed in Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen.
The threat of terrorism and violent extremist movements has grown. Racism, xenophobia and antisemitism have become more evident in our communities. Hate crimes and hate speech are also contemporary phenomena that are present in all countries. In part, such illegal activities are intended to spread fear and instigate insecurity. The aim is to derail the everyday lives of ordinary people and destabilise functioning societies.
The international community, each and every nation, civic society – every one of us must put greater effort into weeding out these crimes and phenomena.
Democratic states respond to attacks on democracy and their constitutions by democratic means, respecting openness and emphasising constitutional principles. A democratic and pluralistic society is based on respect for human rights, tolerance and equality between human beings. This is how Finland works, and these are the principles which Finland also promotes as a member of the international community.
We humans have a need and desire to understand and to find explanations, particularly in the face of incomprehensible acts of evil. We can only try to imagine the questions asked within the walls of Auschwitz: Why? Why does no one help or intervene? Where are our fellow human beings and the rest of the world? Have common decency and humanity vanished from the face of the Earth?
Today violent and hateful acts can have many reasons: unemployment, financial instability, generations of underprivilege, alienation, social exclusion – and many completely inexplicable individual cases, pure terror. These background issues need, of course, to be addressed and solutions found. We must strengthen education and learning, and create jobs. But this may not necessarily be enough. How can we identify and prevent extreme but silent hatred, which has gained foothold in a person, before it takes total hold of a person?
Acts of violence and hatred sow the seeds of yet more hatred and fear. The everyday lives of ordinary people can easily become hostage to such emotions. The feeling of safety is lost, and one’s life no longer feels like one’s own. Paris is currently striving to return to normal and resume everyday life, while at the same its streets are full of soldiers. That is difficult.
No experience of injustice can ever, and in no situation, justify insulting or hurting another person, either in word or deed. It is always wrong. We must also respect those who disagree with us. We must exercise our own rights in a way that respects the rights of others. Failure to intervene when wrongs are being committed is a kind of false tolerance. Justice is best defended via the truth.
Auschwitz is the Jewish people’s largest cemetery, in which the ashes of innocent victims have been scattered. Today, it is also a place of silence, meditation and contrition. While we are gathered here, people who survived the atrocities 70 years ago have returned to Auschwitz from all over the world. During the commemoration event, candles will be lit together with young people. Life goes on.
Today, we remember the victims of persecution and pay our respects. At the same time it is important to remember and honour those who have been brave and courageous enough to resist persecution. We continue to need such people today, too.