MAUTHAUSEN, Austria, May 5, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On May 5th, the anniversary date of the liberation by U.S. forces of the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen, a major event was organized by the Austrian government to mark the date and the opening of permanent new exhibits.
An invited audience of close to 1,000 attended the program on the grounds of Mauthausen and then toured the new exhibits.
The program featured six keynote addresses. The speakers were Austrian President Heinz Fischer; Hungarian President Janos Ader; Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski; Chairman of the Russian Duma Sergei Naryshkin, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni; and AJC Executive Director David Harris.
The program was opened by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, under whose auspices the Mauthausen Memorial is maintained.
Many other dignitaries were in the audience, including several Austrian Cabinet members, the Speaker of the Austrian Parliament, the Serbian Prime Minister, the Czech Minister of the Interior, the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, and officials representing several other countries.
An estimated 200,000 people were deported to Mauthausen between its opening in 1938 and liberation in 1945. Approximately 90,000 were murdered there.
In his remarks, Harris said he draws three contemporary lessons from what occurred at Mauthausen and the other components of the Nazi reign of terror and genocide:
"First, we are obligated to take anti-Semitism seriously. It is a slippery slope from words to deeds, from demonization to destruction. Today, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. A recent Tel Aviv University study made the point. Polls show it. Statistics prove it. And it is shameful that today there are at least three openly anti-Semitic political parties sitting in European parliaments.
"Second, the Holocaust is a sobering reminder of the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people and to Jewish security. To be sure, the vision of Israel dates back thousands of years. And, yes, modern Zionism began well over a century ago, long before the Holocaust, thanks in large measure to a far-sighted Viennese journalist, Theodor Herzl. He saw no future for Jews in Europe once he grasped the depth of anti-Semitism even after an era of Jewish emancipation. But how many Jews could have been saved from the Holocaust had Israel been established even ten years earlier, when Jews could still leave Europe but too often found no country that would permit them entry?
"And third, the words 'Never again' must not be just for repetition at commemorative events. They must become ingrained in governments, civil society, religious institutions, and individuals -- and practiced on a daily basis. The only way we can prove we have learned from the Mauthausens and Majdaneks is to strive for societies built on the bedrock principles of democracy, equal protection under the law, and mutual respect -- and to stand up with absolute moral clarity and courage against any manifestation of racism and anti-Semitism. Only then will be able to say that on our watch we have truly lived the words 'Never again.'"
SOURCE American Jewish Committee