image Photo: Reuters

World leaders gather for Fifth World Holocaust Forum

Dozens of international leaders attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum (WHF) at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem today.

The event commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, in advance annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over the ceremonies, attended by 41 heads of state and high-ranking officials. Visiting leaders who delivered addresses included Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French President Emmanuel Macron and Charles, Prince of Wales.

The theme of this year’s WHF is “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Anti-Semitism.” At a special reception at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin said “I hope and pray that from this room, the message will go out to every country on earth that the leaders of the world will stand united, will stand united together in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism.” The Israeli leader underscored, “This is the call of our time, this is our challenge, this is our choice.”

The Fifth WHF marks the largest international diplomatic gathering hosted in Israel since it was founded in 1948, facilitating the holding of scores of high-level talks during which Israeli leaders persistently lobbied visiting dignitaries to ensure there would never be a reoccurance of atrocities of the Holocaust. These efforts focused primarily on enlisting world support against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which openly calls for the annihilation of the Jewish State in active pursuit of capabilities to fulfill its aspirations. “The international community should be recruited to the fight against Iran and against the forces acting to undermine the stability of the Middle East,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

French President Emmanuel Macron suggested a shift in his nation’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Tehran, saying that “We will be inflexible when it comes to the nuclear issue. Since 2017, I’ve been wishing that we enlarge the international framework dealing with Iran’s nuclear activities so that their ballistic activities and regional instability also become part of a deal. And in the current context, France is determined that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, but also that we avoid all military escalation in the region.”

Ahead of today’s main event at Yad Vashem, countless events aimed at keeping the memory of the Holocaust victims alive were organized for the visiting world leaders. “I am happy that you are here,” Holocaust Survivor Giselle Cycowicz told German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, during his meeting with a group of other elderly survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. The 93-year-old Cycowicz, who survived the Auschwitz death complex at the age of 18, also told the German leader, “You have the will to learn more about us, to talk with us. Every man who survived it, the Holocaust has a special story to tell, a national story and a personal story.”

President Steinmeier responded by reiterating his nation’s commitment to the survivors, saying, “At the end of my words, I would like to assure you about our responsibility in Germany,”  adding, “I’m one of the people telling everybody in Germany – again and again – that this is a responsibility that will never end.”