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Speech by President Charles Michel at the EP special plenary meeting on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Raad, gepubliceerd op donderdag 27 januari 2022.

Madam President, Madam President of the Commission, Honourable Members, dear Ms Friedländer,

It is not easy to stand before you and speak after hearing your testimony, with its power, its intimate and personal character, and the indomitable strength of will, the courage and the clear-sightedness which you have expressed here in this Parliament, which is the symbol of European democracy.

I would like to begin by expressing my admiration and my gratitude to you Mrs Friedländer. Admiration for your courage and commitment to bear witness, as you do today. It commands our respect. And it forces each citizen - each of us here today - to reflect on our own commitment to defend and improve the society, and the world we live in.

And allow me to express our gratitude, dear Margot Friedländer, for your words of wisdom. Your commitment has brought you to this Parliament today - the home of European democracy - to commemorate the Holocaust, when Europe’s Jewish people were targeted for annihilation.

Holocaust... Jews... home... democracy... Europe.

Allow me to say a few words about some of the convictions that link these powerful and resonant words.

The Holocaust was a European tragedy. Some people, especially the younger generation, may see this event as remote and abstract. Even mythical. A global commemoration of a unique, symbolic, and long-ago tragedy. Yet, it was on European soil that this unimaginable crime was perpetrated. Perpetrated by Europeans against fellow Europeans, the result of unbridled hatred.

We Europeans are all heirs to this history, our history. And we are all, the guardian of this memory, our memory. This gives Europe and Europeans - all of us here today - a special responsibility. The responsibility of guardians. The years pass and this responsibility becomes all the more consequential. Because, unfortunately, we will not always be accompanied by survivors to bear witness.

Europe is the home of European Jews. Just as it is the home for all Europeans.

Europe would not be what it is today without the contributions of the Jewish people over many centuries. Contributing to our societies - to the sciences, economy, culture, and to the vibrancy of our European intellectual life.

Europe is home for Jewish people.

That’s why today, with antisemitism resurgent in Europe, the idea that Jewish people are under attack just because they are Jews, is absolutely unbearable. And that’s why the strategy that the European Commission adopted last year to combat antisemitism, and to secure a future for Jewish life in Europe, is so vital. This plan includes support for the creation of a network of young European ambassadors to promote the memory of the Shoah.

This parliament is the house of European democracy.

Antisemitism is a denial of democracy. When we defend Jewish life, when we promote Jewish life, along with the life of all communities in Europe, when we fight discrimination, when we protect minorities, we are defending European democracy.

Defending European democracy means fighting antisemitism. And all discrimination.

It was therefore no coincidence that those who planned, organised and perpetrated the genocide of the Jews were also those who, in 1933, burned down the Reichstag, the German parliament. This building was symbolically restored some sixty years later and re-inhabited by the Bundestag, when democracy was restored throughout reunified Germany.

Combating antisemitism today means combating the hate speech, and the conspiracy theories, that have taken root and thrive, especially online. This parliament - the forum for European democratic public debate - is a place where this essential battle is being waged.

Finally, I would like to return to the Holocaust. And to the crucial role that this event plays in shaping our European spirit, our European vision.

The European Union is the strongest and most decisive response to the tragedy of the Second World War. A project of peace, of solidarity, of shared prosperity, a political project, forward-looking, and founded on solid values.

And it is this tragedy, the Holocaust, that has instilled us Europeans with a special sense of duty - the duty to defend and to promote respect for human dignity and freedom - here at home and throughout the world. And the duty to fight all that discriminates, all that weakens, and all that dispossesses or even excludes as the Jews have been in our European history.

This duty, this fight, is no different from the fight for democracy. They are one. They are the same.

It is precisely because we have experienced the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust that today we are working so intently for a Europe that is home to democracy.

Democracy is our struggle. For democracy is never fully won. It is never won forever. But it is the worthiest of battles. It requires commitment from all of us - just like the tireless commitment shown by you, Margot Friedländer.

Dear Ms Friedländer, we would like to convey all our admiration and gratitude to you. Your harrowing, powerful message, which makes us shudder and moves us, also inspires us with hope and strength. Thank you.


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