NEW YORK - Germany has praised the United Nations General Assembly for unanimously approving a proposal to set January 27 as the "International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that for the German people, the Holocaust will forever be a dark time in their history demanding special treatment.
The decision was made at the end of a special General Assembly session that began at UN headquarters in New York on Monday.
January 27, 1945 is the day that allied forces liverated the Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski applauded the UN General Assembly resolution.
"Sixty years after the Holocaust, the nations of the world are uniting to preserve its memory for future generations," Bielski told Haaretz. "This is an important decision taking into account the fact that the number of Holocaust survivors is decreasing every year as they pass on and this historic decision will guarantee that the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons will not be erased."
Bielski congratulated Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Gillerman, on having paved the way for the adoption of this resolution.
Gillerman also thanked the members of the General Assembly "at this unique and historic moment ... for adopting this unprecedented resolution."
As the world marks the 60th anniversaries this year of both the founding of the UN and the end of World War II, Gillerman said the Nazi slaughter of six million people, the vast majority of them Jews, must never be forgotten.
"I feel moved and privileged to present this historic resolution today, as an Israeli, a Jew, a human being and the child of Holocaust victims," Gillerman said in introducing the resolution.
There was no vote on the resolution. Instead, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson banged the gavel signifying consensus after asking whether there were any objections and hearing none.
The resolution asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a special public relations plan within the next six months, which will work to advance Holocaust commemoration so as to prevent genocide from taking place.
The resolution also urges individual countries to develop educational programs to try to prevent future acts of genocide.
It also rejects any denial of the Holocaust, condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity, and calls for the UN to establish an outreach program to encourage the public to engage in Holocaust remembrance activities.
The resolution, introduced Monday, was sponsored initially by Israel, the United States, Australia, Canada and Russia. Since the draft resolution was distributed for the first time in August, 91 UN member nations have added their names, including eight Muslim countries and several countries in Africa and South America.
Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia said they supported the resolution but atrocities against Christians and Muslims deserved equal attention.
After the vote, Egypt's UN Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz complained that the day should commemorate all victims of genocide - "without discrimination on the basis of religious or ethnic background" - and not be limited just to victims of the Holocaust.
"We believe that no one should have the monopoly of suffering," he said.
Jordan's UN Ambassador Prince Zeid al-Hussein called the Holocaust "a crime of the most colossal proportions" that was inflicted on European soil by Europeans against Europeans.
But he said it should not be used as a moral justification for the "continued domination of one people by another," an obvious reference to Israel and the Palestinians.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, in a speech on Monday, recalled the recent comments of at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that sparked international condemnation.
"When a president or a member state can brazenly and hatefully call for a second Holocaust by suggesting that Israel, the Jewish homeland, should be wiped off the map, it is clear that not all have learned the lessons of the Holocaust and that much work remains to be done," Bolton said.
Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger called the Holocaust "the very darkest chapter in the history of Germany." And Austria, Romania and France all recalled their history of collaboration with the Nazis.
"We feel the agony of knowing that our country lost so many of its Jewish citizens to the Holocaust," Austria's UN Ambassador Gerhard Pfanzelter said. "At the same time we feel the pain of realizing that far too many Austrians took part in this greatest of all crimes."
The resolution is the first of its kind, spurring diplomats in New York to call the move "historic."
In addition to setting a world Holocaust Day, the resolution calls on member nations to develop educational programs to teach the next generations the lessons of the Holocaust, in an effort to prevent acts of genocide in the future. The resolution also includes a clause opposing any steps to deny the Holocaust as a historical event, in whole or in part. The resolution also expresses appreciation for all countries that acted to preserve and maintain sites that existed during the Holocaust, such as death camps, concentration camps and forced labor camps.
The effort to declare an international Holocaust Day is consistent with the UN commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, which coincides with the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, say those who drafted the resolution. In January the United Nations held a special session dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson and other speakers noted, however, that the Holocaust and World War II did not mark the end of crimes of genocide. The Holocaust "must, therefore, be a unifying historic warning around which we must rally," Eliasson said. "We can't continue to repeat saying 'Never again.'"
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