SPEECH GIVEN AT THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF COSTA RICA

SPEECH GIVEN AT THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF COSTA RICA

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Legislative Assembly

San Jose, Costa Rica

 

         President of the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica, Deputy Luis Fernando Mendoza Jiménez; Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Roverssi; First Pro Secretary of the Legislative Board, Deputy Justo Orozco Álvarez; Holocaust survivor Salomón Fachler; Holocaust survivor Frida Goldberg de Gutreiman; Holocaust survivor Gueña Wajntraub de Majchel; UNESCO representative in Costa Rica, Montserrat Martell; diplomatic body accredited in Costa Rica; municipal authorities present; representatives of the Jewish community; ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

       We thank the Legislative Assembly for the opportunity to present our project, Traces to Remember, which has been designed as an educational and preventative tool to safeguard human rights, and is currently being carried out in different Latin American countries with great success, including Colombia, Chile, Panama, Paraguay, Argentina, and Mexico.

       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 universities, institutes, schools, embassies, public places, museums, and in the media, in order to teach about genocide, particularly the Holocaust and its consequences. Above all, we have the objective of creating opportunities for analysis in order to educate new generations, and thereby prevent such acts from happening again, because as the Secretary General of the United Nations stated upon the approval of Resolution 60/7, which designated January 27 as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, this day is “an important reminder of the universal lessons of the Holocaust, a unique evil which cannot simply be consigned to the past and forgotten.” 

        Genocides have occurred throughout the course of human history, but the word “genocide” did not exist before 1944; it was created by a Polish Jewish lawyer named Rafael Lemkin, who developed the term in an attempt to describe the Nazi policies of systematic elimination or extermination against the Jews. Although genocide is now recognized as the most serious crime of international humanitarian law, and despite the different organizations, international courts and tribunals that work in defense of human rights, we are still not exempt from the recurrence of such atrocities.

       The worst crimes against humanity occurred in the 20th century, and even after the United Nations issued the Universal Charter of Human Rights, we saw cases such as the massacre in Rwanda in 1994, which left 800,000 people dead, and as another example, horrible crimes were committed against different ethnic groups in Guatemala and throughout Central America. This makes us aware that we should not forget the past: we must remember history, as it is the best legacy we can leave to future generations. We must not allow ourselves to repeat the dark 20th century.

        Many may ask: Why go in depth specifically about the subject of the Holocaust? Why remember the Holocaust or Shoah?” While there have been other genocides, the Holocaust divided the history of civilized society in a before and after; it was an unprecedented attempt to annihilate a people. 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 in a systematic, organized, and well-planned manner in order to wipe out 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 it not be repeated. We believe that forgetting the Holocaust would be 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.

        Our goal at the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace is to educate present and future generations, 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, or religious reasons, never happen again.

        To achieve this goal, I would like to propose to you with the utmost respect, that through a law of Congress, the Holocaust be included as a subject of study and debate during the last years of study in schools, and as a course of study or a case study in universities, in order to encourage reflection on the value of life and human dignity.

         Why teach the Holocaust in schools?

            In commemoration of the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (January 27, 2013), UNESCO published a brochure called “Why Teach about the Holocaust?” in which Professor Yehuda Bauer, one of the world's premier historians of the Holocaust, emphasizes: “Whether you live in Central Africa, People's Republic of China, the South Pacific, or Switzerland, you have to be aware of the danger that genocide presents. Education about the Holocaust ultimately means to remove humanity as far away as possible from that extreme form of mass murder.”

        We note with concern that youth have little knowledge about the Holocaust, and as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is why it is so important to create opportunities for reflection and debate among students regarding this topic.

    It is necessary for authorities to be able to create laws that punish antisemitism as a form of discrimination, and condemn Holocaust denial and the propagation of neo-Nazi groups and their actions, which threaten peace and human dignity. At the same time, however, it is essential to go beyond articles and concepts. It is necessary to have a conscientious population that is capable of enforcing laws wisely, and this can only be achieved through education.

        What drove the Nazis was a racist ideology: they believed in racial hierarchy. According to this theory, some races were superior while others were considered “parasitic.” This is how they justified the extermination, through an ideology that Hitler implanted in schools.

        For that reason, in order to prevent the recurrence of these crimes, we must promote at different educational institutions an education with values, focused on human beings, where children and youth can learn the value of the defense of human rights, become aware of the importance of building paths for the peace of the human family, and measure the consequences of war. We are conscious of the importance of education for the building of a peaceful society, and we congratulate the government of Costa Rica for having, among their priorities, equal access to education for all their residents.

        Honorable senators, deputies, ambassadors, educators, and leaders: you play a very important role in the defense of human rights in Costa Rica. Today, you are the protagonists of the history of your country. In your hands is the responsibility and the challenge of working to ensure that these crimes never occur again. If this idea is welcome among you, I offer all the assistance that the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace can provide.

Thank you very much.

 

Dr. William Soto Santiago

Ambassador of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace