PARIS - As countries across Europe prepare for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, being commemorated on Friday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke of his "specific responsibility" as a German to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
"I feel that I have a very specific responsibility," said Schulz at European Union headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, addressing a crowd of 500 parliamentarians, ambassadors and other guests at an event organized by the European Jewish Congress, "because what was decided at the so-called Wannsee Conference - the extermination of the Jewish people - was done in the name of the German people," Schulz said, referring to the meeting of Nazi officials in 1942 to decide on the "Final Solution."
International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012
"The German people of today is not guilty [of the Holocaust], but responsible for keeping the memory alive," he said. "For me, this means that whoever is representing the German nation has one important duty - to take into account our responsibility for the Jews in the world."
Schulz said he had decided that the international day of commemoration, which was established six years ago by the UN General Assembly, will become an official annual event of the European Parliament from now on. The date, January 27, is the same day in 1945 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by Soviet forces.
During the Brussels ceremony, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, called on Europe "to recognize evil and prevent its reemergence."
Meanwhile, as countries across Europe prepared ceremonies for Friday, several began putting out official statements to mark the occasion.
"France is determined to fulfill the duty to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to pass this knowledge on to new generations in France and throughout the world," read a statement released by the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"While the direct witnesses of the Holocaust have, for the most part, already died, the international community has a duty to keep its memory alive so that humankind never experiences such a tragedy again," continued the French statement. "This duty to remember is a collective responsibility. We must reject all forms of trivialization. By remembering the Holocaust we are reminded of the barbarity of which man is capable, but we are also reminded of the acts of resistance and solidarity between human beings faced with the horror of extermination."
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg signed the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment in the House of Commons - in which signatories can pledge their commitment to challenging all forms of prejudice - during a visit to Downing Street by a delegation headed by founder and president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, Lord Janner, and including Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott.
British Labor Party leader and opposition head Ed Miliband, who has spoken publicly of his parents' escape from the Nazis, also added his own message to the book, writing: "Speak up, speak out is an essential message for us all as we remember the Holocaust. It reminds us that we must never forget the terrible genocide perpetrated against Jews. We owe it to all those who perished to remember and speak up against anti-Semitism. We must speak out against injustice and bigotry wherever we find it."
Meanwhile, German magazine Stern published a report on Thursday showing that one in five young Germans has no idea that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp. According to a poll commissioned by the magazine, although 90 percent of those asked did know what it was, "Auschwitz" meant literally nothing to 21 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds who were asked. The poll also showed that almost a third of the 1,002 people questioned were unaware that Auschwitz was in today's Poland.
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