European leaders marked the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, which was the 61st anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. The ceremony was overshadowed by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denying the Holocaust and threatening Israel
Last week Iran accused the "Zionist regime" of "routinely attempting to exploit the suffering of the Jewish people in the past as a cover for its crimes being perpetrated today against Palestinians in the occupied territories."
An official document sent by Iran's UN mission to the president of the General Assembly, Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, lists these crimes as "Massacre, demolition of houses, properties and farmlands as well as acts of state terrorism."
Iran urges the international community to "take strong action against such atrocious crimes of the Zionist regime and not allow it to manipulate humanitarian sentiments to pursue its illegitimate goals." The document, which is unsigned, is dated January 23.
The events of the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day consisted of ceremonies an several death camp sites and special parliament sessions. Groups of schoolchildren in France, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands visited sites and exhibitions about the Holocaust.
Germany's parliament commemorated the Nazis' victims and the president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, said Iranian President Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust in recent weeks shows "how much not only we Germans need to keep its memory alive."
"With dismay we have had to note that today, even presidents insist on describing the Holocaust as a fairy tale," Lammert said.
Lammert said the need to commemorate the millions of Jews and others murdered by the Nazis will not diminish with time.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday the fate of the victims of the Holocaust should remind the world to be vigilant against racism and keep in check the "bigots" denying the extermination of the Jews during World War II.
"The fate of the victims of the Holocaust should be a warning for all of us that we live in a world where ... you have modernism mixed with barbarism and we should be vigilant in trying to ensure that what happened is never repeated," Annan told reporters after meeting with Holocaust survivors in Zurich.
Annan said the bigots deny that "the unique experience of the Holocaust occurred and that should be countered. You start with humiliations, you start with racism, you demean the other and before you know it has moved on to incredible levels."
The commemoration comes just four days after Iran said it would follow through with plans to organize a conference on what it terms the "scientific evidence" for the Holocaust. The planned conference, which has drawn condemnation from Western leaders, is yet another step in hard-line President Ahmadinejad's public campaign against Israel.
Without mentioning Iran by name, Annan said in a statement, "We must reject their false claims whenever, wherever and by whomever they are made."
Last year, the UN General Assembly commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps with a special session, a stark change for a body that was often reluctant to address the extermination of the Jews during World War II.
The central commemoration for Holocaust victims in Poland was held at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz laid a wreath at the foot of the main memorial for some 1.5 million people who died in the camp, saying "the Holocaust is a crime that tarnishes human history."
"Let it be a warning today and for the future. One cannot submit to ideologies that justify the possibility of trampling on human dignity," Marcinkiewicz said.
Marcinkiewicz was accompanied by the Israeli ambassador to Poland, camp survivors and representatives of the Jewish community.
In a symbolic gesture to the million Jewish Poles who were murdered in the Holocaust, a light rail carriage that operated in the Warsaw Ghetto before its annihilation, drove through Warsaw bearing a Star of David.
Russia's Jewish leaders, rights activists and officials commemorated the Holocaust on Friday, calling for for stepping up the fight against extremism and anti-Semitism.
Russia's chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, said a remembrance prayer at a commemoration event at the Moscow Writers' House, urging leaders worldwide to do more to promote tolerance.
Lazar lamented that extremist sentiments were gaining popularity around the world, including in Russia, where a knife attack earlier this month on worshipers at a Moscow synagogue left eight people wounded.
In Prague, Auschwitz survivor Felix Kolmer urged people to look ahead as well as back. "Let's not forget that memories of our suffering have to be also a point of departure for creating a better future," said Kolmer, 83.
Brazilian President Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Friday said the world must remember the Holocaust with "indignation" to keep from repeating the tragedy.
"The shadow of this tragedy extends itself over all of mankind, which must commit itself to never forget one of the most tragic episodes in history," Silva said.
The Brazilian president addressed some 300 people in a ceremony at the Sao Paulo Jewish Congregation's synagogue. "We, our children, our children's children and all future generations must remember the Holocaust with indignation and prevent this heinous crime from repeating itself ever again.
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