“Check against delivery”
Chairman de Rothschild,
Last year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was able to listen to the testimony of Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor from Milan, an Italian Senator for life.
90 year old Liliana Segre spoke in the European Parliament. She told us about her ordeal as a slave labourer in Auschwitz. She told us how she was forced to embark on one of the horrific death marches to Germany. “One foot in front of the other, we kept walking”, she said. “We ate snow, in order to drink water. Wherever there was snow and not blood.” Back then, Liliana Segre was 13 years old.
It is so important that we, and especially our young people, are able to hear such stories from the survivors themselves. Survivors like Liliana Segre. Their stories are a testimonial to the immeasurable strength of the Jewish people. Their power of endurance. Their will to survive. We must do everything to keep their stories alive!
I know how important this endeavour is also for you, at the World Jewish Congress. I am honoured to address your Plenary Assembly today. For decades, you have been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Jewish communities around the world. To eradicate antisemitism. And to make sure, that the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive. And I am here to tell you:
Europe is with you in this fight.
Because, sadly, anti-semitism is not confined to a distant past. It is still very present in Europe and across the world. I am, of course, thinking of the attacks in Halle and Toulouse, in Paris and Brussels. I am thinking about the victims. And their families. And I am also thinking of more recent anti-Jewish demonstrations in European streets. Attacks and anti-Israeli graffiti on synagogues are blatant manifestations of anti-semitism. I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence on Europe’s streets. We will not tolerate this. Anti-semitic crimes and hate speech must be brought to justice.
After taking office as Commission President in 2019, I stepped up Europe´s fight against anti-semitism. Later this year, the Commission will adopt its first-ever “EU strategy on combatting antisemitism and fostering Jewish life”. With this strategy, we will first of all strengthen our fight against antisemitism.
Second, we want to preserve the memory of past atrocities. All European students should learn about the Holocaust – no matter their background, family history or country of origin. Because young people need to know the facts. And third, we want to foster Jewish life in Europe in all its diversity. Let me assure you: we will make this strategy ambitious. And I am looking forward to your input.
We also need to put a stop to hatred and antisemitism on the internet. Disinformation and the denial of facts are everywhere online. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular has shown how quickly antisemitic conspiracy myths can spread. With our Digital Services Act we make clear that online platforms must take greater responsibility for preventing the disseminating and promotion of antisemitic material. Because not only individuals, but also businesses – especially powerful tech giants – have to combat hatred and stand for historical truth.
The duty to “Protect the Future of the Jewish people” starts with remembering the past. But of course, it does not end there. Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities prosper, too. 76 years after the Holocaust, Jewish life in Europe is thriving again – in synagogues, in schools and kindergartens, and in fashionable kosher restaurants. In the heart of our communities. We must continue to protect it.
Just recently I have been in touch again with Liliana Segre, the Italian Holocaust survivor. For me, she is an inspiring example. I admire how she continues to tell her story to young people in Italy, how she helps spread the word about the Holocaust and about the fragility of our societies. Like Liliana Segre, we all have to do that. Antisemitism is a threat to our democracies, our values and our open societies. It is a threat to humanity. It is a threat to all of us, no matter what we believe in. That’s why we have to show time and again where we stand.
We have to fight this fight together.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Source: Speech by President von der Leyen at the 16th World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly