Online Module: The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights

Chapter 2: "An awareness of the past is crucial" – personal statements

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Which lessons can be drawn from the past? What are the links between Holocaust, remembrance, fundamental rights, and Europe? Roman Prodi, Robert Lemkin Andrzej Szczypiorski, Simone Veil, and Stéphane Hessel give some food for thought for building your own statement. 


  • Roman Prodi, Speech/99/119,

  • Raphael Lemkin, "Totally unofficial“, autobiography, Chapter VIII, p. 4, unpublished manuscript, undated, New York Public Library, Box 2: Bio- and autobiographical sketches of Lemkin, citation after Dominik J. Schaller and Jürgen Zimmerer, guest editors of the sepecial edition of the Journal of Genocide Research (2005), 7 (4), pp. 447–452.

  • Simone Veil's speech to the German Bundestag on 27 January 2007 (the entire speech in French). 

  • Stéphane Hessel, Time for Outrage, Kindle Edition 2011, S. 5.



 Roman Prodi"The Shoah could be ordered because men had completely perverted the meaning of man.

Not just life was violated, but death too. Debased, rendered horribly obscene, bureaucratic, technical. Here a radical challenge to the human was cast down in a work of anti-creation.

From that time onward we know that the human is not a given, that the human is still possible, through goodness, solidarity, peace, but that it is never certain once and for all."

Entry in the visitor's book at Auschwitz, 1 October 1999 by Roman Prodi, former President of the European Commission (1999–2004)

Raphael Lemkin

In the 1940ties "It was still possible to save at least a part of the people.

The Allies still had an access to the parliaments of most the nations of the world at that time. A treaty naming genocide a crime could still be enacted and applied by many parliaments. And then a warning had to be issued to Hitler concomitantly with the treaty. The warning would say that the protection of the very existence of nations is the main aim of the Allies." 

Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, who immigrated 1939 after the German invasion via Sweden to the United States, and became the founder of genocide research. Confronted with the wide-spread indifference of the US American public towards the murder of European Jewry, he fought for an international treaty for the protection of ethnic and religious minorities. His hope that this could rescue European Jews, turned out false. Only later in 1946 Lemkin's concept of genocide then constituted the basis for the „Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide“, approved on December 9, 1948 by the United Nations.

Andrzej Szczypiorski"And I know something more -

that the Europe of the future cannot exist without commemorating all those, regardless of their nationality, who were killed at that time with complete contempt and hate, who were tortured to death, starved, gassed, incinerated and hanged ..."

Andrzej Szczypiorski (1928–2000), author of Polish origin, deported as one of the fighters of the Warsaw Uprising to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. After the war he worked as a diplomat, a radio journalist and as an author. 

Simone Veil"This is another lesson from the Nazi experience:

institutions must be as reliable as possible, there must be all kinds of protective mechanisms and counterweights to guarantee democracy against the passions but, should these fail, there remains only civil courage, moral conscience and the dignity of the individual with which to save our collective freedom.

Europe’s second spiritual pillar should be transmission. Europe should know and bear the burden of all its shared past, its areas of light and shadow; each member state should know and bear the burden of its failures and its faults, be aware of its own past so that it can also be aware of that of its neighbours. For every nation, the work of memory is demanding, often difficult, sometimes painful. Yet it protects the future from the errors of the past because it is this that permits us to rebuild on a sound footing the national unity undermined by past treachery; again, it is this that makes possible a lasting reconciliation between nations that were once enemies."

Simone Veil is a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She was a high-ranking civil servant in the French Ministry of Justice, Minister of Health in France, and between 1979 and 1982 the first President of the elected European Parliament.

Stéphane Hessel"I wish all of you to find your reason for indignation.

This is a precious thing. When outraged, as I was by Nazism, you will become militant, strong, and engaged. You will join the great course of history as it flows toward greater justice, greater freedom - but not the reckless freedom of the fox in the henhouse. In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you encounter someone who is robbed of these rights, pity her, and help her claim those rights."

Stéphane Hessel, born 1917 in Berlin as the son of the Jewish author Franz Hessel and the journalist Helen Grund, lived since 1924 in Paris, since 1939 with French citizienship. He fought in the Résistance, survived torture by the Gestapo and the concentration camp Buchenwald. After the war he was the representative of France in the United Nations in New York and in 1948 co-signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


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