UNESCO, Grande Salle, Wednesday 27 January 2010, 19HMadame the Director-General of UNESCO, Dear Irina BOKOVA, Minister of Culture and Sports of the State of Israel, Dear Limor LIVNAT,Former Deportees, Dear Samuel PISAR,Mr President of the Shoah Memorial, Dear Eric de ROTHSCHILD,Ambassadors,Ladies and Gentlemen,
Silence has often seemed the only valid answer to absolute horror. Yet it is also indispensable – inseparable from the need for silence – that memory speak out and that testimonies continue to be heard and transmitted from generation to generation. We must be, through silence, but also through a form of eloquence and celebration full of restraint, of dignity, smugglers of this memory.
For beyond the horror, and precisely because of it, the Holocaust, which we are commemorating here, radically questions what our culture has been, what it has been able to bring about, what it has not been able to prevent. Since then, this question has not ceased to haunt us, to shake us, to question a certain number of expectations and presuppositions of yesterday’s world, still burdened with so many prejudices. The Holocaust has attacked our culture at its root.
Since then, we have had to learn to unlearn, to deconstruct many of the habits that led to the disaster: not only to defuse the risks of a return to horror, but also with the hope of rebuilding our culture on a healthier basis, more fundamentally welcoming.
That is why this event, which commemorates the liberation of the AUSCHWITZ camp just 65 years ago, is not only a time of reflection, pain and mourning, but also, I want to believe, a message of hope and a moral injunction. Auschwitz compels us to remember, first of all, of course, what this represents as a historical fact and past trauma of which we are constantly trained to know and elucidate all the circumstances, each of which matters to us. But beyond that, we speak of memory, that is to say of human emotion, but also of the incarnation of remembrance in each of our actions. We feel compelled to add to ourselves, to each of our gestures, to the least of our movements, to the most fleeting of our thoughts, another dimension, borne and imposed naturally by memory, and which is its sign. Not only creators and thinkers, but all of us, each one of us, have been asked to behave differently in the demand and in the hope of rebuilding Europe and European culture on new bases, more hospitable, less structured by binary oppositions that have been one of the matrices of murderous enterprises. That, I want to believe, might have been the wish of each of those who disappeared in this tragedy; that is also what the testimony of the survivors invites us to do.
We immediately enter into a tacit contract with ourselves. For Auschwitz does not appear to us quite as a mirror, but as the shadow of a certain European culture that we must now consider with greater vigilance.
And that, I believe, is what this celebration is all about: reminding us not only of our duty to remember, but simply of our duty, our obligation to be other than what this shadow has shown. It is a matter of reviving this tacit contract, of remobilizing this indispensable vigilance.
It is probably easier for a generation like ours, like mine, which was very close to the disaster and directly marked by it, But it is our duty to pass on this memory, which carries a moral demand, to the younger generations who might be tempted to relegate to the past what is too unique and too deep to belong to any time other than the eternal present of our vigilance.
Let us remember, let us not lose the sense of this vigilance, let us not be trapped by the pretext of the years that seem to separate us from the horror. For nothing separates us from it. Consciousness does not know time, it does not count years.
This is why our consciences have retained this wholesome and uncompromising sensitivity to all denials and excesses, much as our sense of physical pain warns us of the evils that affect us to alert our vigilance.
That, I believe, is what it means for us today to “remember” on this International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, not to mention all those who, as an added horror, perished even after the liberation of the camps.
For this reason, as Minister of Culture, I fully associate myself with the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the Delegation of Israel to UNESCO, as well as Mr. Eric de ROTHSCHILD, President of the Shoah Memorial, and to all those who keep the most vivid memory of this tragedy, which commits the responsibility of France in its capacity to invent another destiny.