‘Leaders who sanction hate speech’ encourage citizens to do likewise, UN communications chief tells Holocaust remembrance event

UN News/Maher Nasser United Nations Civil Society Briefing.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

The Holocaust illustrates how easily “people can move from condoning brutality, to committing genocide” and shows that “leaders who sanction hate speech or make anti-Semitic or xenophobic slurs” are encouraging their own citizens “to do the same”, the UN’s head of Global Communications told leading members of the Jewish community at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Alison Smale led the briefing, which focused on the little-known record of Albanians during the Holocaust, who took in thousands of Jews who would otherwise have ended up in the Nazi death camps.

Under the theme: “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend your Human Rights”, it was one of the main events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout this week of reflection on the industrial-scale genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War Two.

“While this occurred, there were individuals and countries that demonstrated tremendous courage to save Jews”, Ms. Smale told those attending, the multimedia event.

“Rescuers made the brave choice to help in full knowledge of the grave consequences they, their families and community would face should they have been found helping Jewish people” she spelled out.

Ms. Smale said that Albania’s moral courage “embodies the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

The event featured video clips from the film “The Albanian Code”, which shines a light on the role that the rugged and historically-rich Balkan country played to rescue Jews, interspersed with remarks and observations from Albania’s UN Ambassador Besiana Kadare; Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress; and Robert Singer, Chief Executive of the World Jewish Congress, among others.

Jonathan Cohen, Acting United States Permanent Representative, said that Albanians “stand out among the courageous people”, and that its Besa honour code “sets an example for us all”.

“Albania deserves to be called the righteous nation,” because it was the only country that made sure that “not even one Jewish life” was taken by Nazi Germany, Danny Danon, the Israeli Ambassador said in his address. Pointing out that while people credited Besa for Albania’s behaviour, he painted a picture of countries’ whose shattered “moral values and moral codes” were not only insufficient to safeguard Jewish communities but even used to justify Nazis collaboration.

In the “dark days” when the benchmark was “being evil”, that Albania upheld its moral compass “is even much more remarkable,” he said, noting that through its open-door policy, the country actually ended the war with a larger Jewish population than it had before it began.

Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “We still have our work to do to follow the brave Albanian citizen who saved Jews during the Holocaust” and to “make sure that hatred against any group does not rear its ugly head”.

Also taking part were Majlinda Myrto, Executive Director of the “Eye Contact Foundation”, whose family is honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescuing a Jewish family during the Holocaust, along with Anna Kohen, a child of Holocaust survivors who found a safe haven in Albania; and David Estrin, Founder of the youth organization “Together We Remember”.

“Learning about the history of Albania’s response during the Holocaust is important because it demonstrates compassionate behavior” explained Ms. Smale.

“It reminds us that we are all responsible for each other.  We all have a role to play in demanding and defending human rights,” concluded the head of UN Global Communications.

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