Dozens of world leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States. The event is lauded as being Israel's biggest diplomatic event in history.
The Fifth World Holocaust Forum that was to take place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum under the banner "Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism," coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The event is organized by World Holocaust Forum in cooperation with Yad Vashem and President Reuven Rivlin, who opened the ceremony with a special message, thanking world leaders for expressing their "solidarity with the Jewish people" by attending the event.
Rivlin says that "anti-Semitism does not stop with the Jews," and calls anti-Semitism and racism a "malignant disease." He added that "no democracy is immune."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier in the day met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a special press conference, also gave a welcoming speech where he slammed the Iranian regime as being "the most anti-Semitic on the planet."
"I am concerned that we have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet. A regime that openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state," Netanyahu told assembled world leaders. "Israel salutes President Trump and Vice President Pence for confronting the tyrants of Tehran," he told the audience, which included Pence.
The event was followed by speeches given by the four main Allied powers during World War II (Russia, the U.S., France and Britain) as well as Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who earlier in the day made headlines by claiming that 40% of those killed in the Holocaust were Soviet Jews, said that war crimes committed by the Nazi regime was one of the “most horrific pages in human history.”
“Remember that there were collaborators in these horrific acts and their cruelty surpassed Nazi cruelty in many European countries," he added. "The Red Army brought about liberation from the Nazis, and we paid a price we never dreamed of paying."
Putin also proposed holding a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain in 2020 to discuss global problems.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was next to speak, echoed the opening remarks of the prime minister by suggesting the world "must stand strong against Iran."
"We must be prepared to confront and expose the vile tide of anti-Semitism that is fueling hate and violence all across the world," Pence told the audience. "In that same spirit, we must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of anti-Semitism, against the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map," he said.
"The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran."
French President Emmanuel Macron said in his address that: "Anti-Semitism is raising its head - violent, aggressive. It is here along with intolerance, racism, and xenophobia."
Cautioning his listeners that "in our history, anti-Semitism always preceded the weakening of democracy."
The president said, "Antisemitism is not just the problem of the Jews, it is first and foremost the problem of everyone,"
adding that "no one has the right to use the memory of the dead to justify some kind of contemporary hatred."
Macron also called out Holocaust deniers saying the murder of 6 million Jews is "not some history you can play with or distort."
Britain's Prince Charles on his first official visit to Israel to participate in the events marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp told participants, "the magnitude of the genocide that was visited upon the Jewish people defies comprehension and can make those of us living in the shadows of those indescribable events feel helplessly inadequate."
The prince added that the lessons of the Holocaust are relevant to this day.
"If we don't make the connection between memories of past atrocities and the present there isn't any point to it." He said.
Like other speakers, the prince peppered his address with words in Hebrew. He warned that "hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart."
And warned that "the Holocaust must never be allowed to become simply a fact of history.
German President Frank Walter Steinmeier who spoke after the Prince of Wales said in his address: "The industrialized and mass murder of six million Jews, the most heinous crime in modern history against humanity, was committed by my people. I stand here and bow my head in deep sorrow."
The German President also said: "The heavy historical journey of guilt is upon me, and I am grateful for the spirit of reconciliation. We are fighting anti-Semitism and are trying to stand against the poison of nationalism. We stand alongside Israel."
The representatives of Poland, however, where the death camp was built by the Nazi German occupiers during World War Two, will stay away due to rankling disputes with both Russia and Israel.
More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
The World Holocaust Forum is the brainchild of Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group representing Jewish communities across Europe. The group recently reported that 80% of European Jews feel unsafe in the continent.
A global survey by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that global anti-Semitic attitudes had increased, and significantly so in Eastern and Central Europe. It found that large percentages of people in many European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
First published: 14:45 , 01.23.20