Thursday, June 27, 2013
Foreign Ministry of Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Deputy Chief of Protocol of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denis Ortiz; Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Thomas Schäfer; Ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Moshé Bachar; Holocaust survivor Regina Engelberg; Rabbi Losef Benchimol; Director of Communications of the Municipality of Guatemala, Rafael Paiz; Jewish community members present; ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
I thank you for your invitation to be here and be able to present our project, Traces to Remember, which has been designed as a preventative tool to teach, remember, and safeguard the defense of human rights. It is currently being carried out with great success in different Latin American countries.
The project consists of exhibiting a plaque with the handprints of a Holocaust survivor and his descendants, as well as creating opportunities for reflection in congresses, embassies, universities, schools, institutes, museums, public places, and in the media in order to teach about genocide, particularly the Holocaust and its consequences. Above all, it has the aim of creating opportunities for reflection to educate younger generations and therefore prevent such events from happening again.
The Holocaust divided the history of civilized society in a before and after. In this crime against humanity, a group of human beings used political power and invoked baseless racial superiority to carry out a human barbarity.
It was an unprecedented attempt to annihilate a people based solely on the fact that they considered them to be an “inferior race.” For Hitler, it was more important to kill all the Jews than it was to win the war. For this reason, the Nazi regime used technology and scientific advances of that time in a systematic, organized, and well-planned manner in order annihilate the Jews en masse, even those who were not on German soil, simply for being Jewish and for considering them inferior to the “Aryan” race.
We are part of history, and therefore, we must demand that the Holocaust and any other crime against humanity not be repeated. We believe that forgetting the Holocaust is a crime, and not making it known to new generations would make us accomplices of those who perpetrated it and those who currently deny it. The Holocaust is the saddest defeat of free civilization. This crime perpetrated by the Nazi regime is the dark page in the history of Germany; and therefore, of the human race.
Our goal as the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace is to educate present and future generations in order to make them aware of the consequences of discrimination and intolerance so that crimes against a group of people for racial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, idiomatic, religious, age or gender-based reasons never happen again.
We believe that the best way to promote tolerance, equality, and respect for life and human dignity is through education. In this respect, the United Nations Resolution 60/7 of November 1, 2005 “urges Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.” And Resolution 61/255 of January 26, 2007 “rejects efforts to deny the Holocaust which, by ignoring the historical fact of those terrible events, increase the risk they will be repeated.”
Hitler began teaching his ideology in schools, implementing a policy on education called NAPOLA (the National Political Institutes of Education) which he created in order to lay the foundation for a “new race”. The texts used in schools contained highly racist—and in particular, antisemitic—content. For example, books such as Der Giftpilz or “The Poisonous Mushroom”, published in Germany in 1938, of which I will read an excerpt:
"A mother and her young boy are gathering mushrooms in the German forest... As they go home, [the mother] says, 'Look, Franz, human beings in this world are like the mushrooms in the forest. There are good mushrooms and there are good people. There are poisonous, bad mushrooms and there are bad people. And we have to be on our guard against bad people just as we have to be on guard against poisonous mushrooms. Do you understand that?’ ‘Yes, mother,’ Franz replies. ‘I understand that in dealing with bad people trouble may arise, just as when one eats a poisonous mushroom. One may even die!’ ‘And do you know, too, who these bad men are, these poisonous mushrooms of mankind?’ the mother continued. Franz slaps his chest in pride: ‘Of course I know, mother! They are the Jews! Our teacher has often told us about them.’ The mother praises her boy...”
When listening to the reading of texts like this, we realize the importance of educational spaces, and how education can transform mentalities. One can educate for hate or one can educate for peace.
Genocide is neither inevitable nor accidental. It is recognized as one of the gravest crimes against humanity, and at the same time, one of the gravest violations of human rights. We cannot say that a crime as atrocious as the Holocaust will not happen again, because it has already happened, not only in Europe, but also in the midst of our own reality: Latin America. That is why it is important to know the ideology of each political candidate before they are elected, to identify if they have xenophobic, racist, or discriminatory inclinations of any kind.
It is fundamental to use education as a foundation to prevent a new genocide. The Holocaust is the paradigm par excellence of the act of genocide, and as such, the Holocaust must be a subject of study in schools, both public and private, as well as a case study in universities.
It is urgent and necessary not only to make laws, but also to support projects that promote the defense of human rights and respect for differences, be they political, religious, or of any other kind. For we see that in the 21st century, every day manifestations of hatred, segregation, violence, and death continue emerging in different parts of the world.
For this reason, I would like to propose to you with the utmost respect that together we take action and promote the approval of Holocaust education in schools and as a case study in universities through a law of Congress. If this idea is welcome among you, I offer all the assistance that the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace can provide so that, in compliance with the resolutions of the UN, we can make education a fundamental tool in the prevention of crimes against humanity, among which the Holocaust has been classified as a capital crime.
Thank you very much.
Dr. William Soto Santiago
Ambassador of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace