Speech by President Charles Michel at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust and Remembrance

The birth of our European project was the answer to the greatest act of annihilation ever carried out by humankind. The political translation of “never again” declared by Europeans after the Second World War. Our Union was conceived — and built — as a project of solidarity, cooperation, and tolerance. These values are quintessential to our project, anchored in the dignity of each human being. They represent our response to a horror where the very principle of humanity was denied.

I just spent two days in Kiev. I visited the site of Babi Yar, where the mass murder of two hundred thousand victims, especially women and children, took place, one by one. Referred to as “the Holocaust by bullets”.

When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, when I visited Yad Vashem, and when I pay my respects at other memorials of the Shoah, I am always reminded of my first recognition of the Holocaust  as a child  when I visited the Fort of Breendonk, in Belgium, where a large number of Belgian Jews were transited to their extermination by the Nazis.

I specifically remember the cold stone of this sinister fortress – I was chilled to the bone by the immensity. It marked me as a ten-year-old boy. As a ten-year-old European.  And it has never left me. This act of “never forgetting” is the duty that falls to us Europeans, to all of us.

Remembering is not enough. As the last survivors of the Shoah leave us, anti-Semitism lives on. On the rise again. That is why we must do more than just remember.  We must act.  We must re-act now.

For instance, since Covid-19, online anti-Semitic content has drastically increased. The pandemic has not only caused millions of deaths. It has opened the floodgates to conspiracy theories. And online hatred against the Jewish community.

One-hundred and twenty years after the invention of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust, the pathology of anti-Semitism remains deep-rooted. It is not just a drama for the Jewish people. It is a drama for all of us, for all our societies across Europe which must be founded on tolerance and solidarity. 

The Holocaust taught us a simple truth: silence is the first step to acceptance. And silent we must never be. Silence is complicity.

All of us, we shoulder a sacred responsibility. To name names and to publicly denounce the slightest word that spreads, or even trivialises, anti-Semitism.

We need a policy of zero impunity against anti-Semitism. We, the European Union, must lead the fight against anti-Semitism. And that’s why the European Council has called for a concrete and ambitious action plan.  The European Commission has just presented a strategy for combating anti-Semitism and supporting Jewish life.  Including an essential component to support education  and remembrance of the Shoah.

The European Union is also drastically reinforcing the legislation – and the means – to fight hatred online, the new battleground for anti-Semitic attacks.

Our efforts must guarantee the safety of European Jews.  Their security and well-being. It is a disgrace that schoolchildren, visitors to museums, or worshippers, should have to be protected by men with guns. Simply because they are Jewish.

Jewish people are at home in Europe. Jewish people are part of Europe.  Artists.  Doctors.  Scientists. Entrepreneurs. They have all shaped and contributed to the rich tapestry of our European culture. And they are part of our future.  Our common future. Europe without the Jewish people would no longer be Europe.

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