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Address of the President of the Czech Republic at the Terezín Commemoration Ceremony

English Pages, 20. 5. 2007

Dear attendants,

We came together, 62 years after the ending of the most dreadful war in the history of mankind and the liberation of the Terezín ghetto, to commemorate – as we do each year – the unfathomable human suffering that occurred here, and that – despite the passage of time - has not faded and remained a symbol of this place.

We commemorate the hundred fifty five thousand of men, women and children, who had gone through this terrible camp, we commemorate the thirty five thousand of those of them who lost their lives here, and the additional tens of thousands, who – after being deported – lost their lives in other Nazi concentration camps.

We stand here, amidst the beauties of springtime, pulled out of our daily routines, unable and perhaps unwilling to accept and even less to comprehend that horrible tragedy that this place came to epitomize. Our common sense fails to envisage, how people were able to treat other people. It fails to envisage that it was possible to hide the organized and planned extermination of millions of innocent people behind the perverse euphemism of the “final solution” and make it an integral part of an official policy of a European country, of one of the most advanced ones, to be precise.

Here, at this very place, we feel how thin the skin of civilization and culture is that gives order to our world and the feeling of lawfulness and safety to our lives. It turned out it was sufficient to make use of the anxieties and dissatisfactions of ordinary people and employ demagogy and confused quasi scientific, but also national and personal complexes and prejudices, and the evil – unexpected, unthinkable and unconceivable – became reality. Yet, it did not have to happen. It did not have to happen, if millions of ordinary people would not have remained so passive, inattentive and careless, if they wouldn’t have thought that crouching down and hoping was enough to survive.

The theme of the Holocaust, the mass killings of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, rightly stays in the centre of our efforts to commemorate the past and to grasp it, historically or artistically. It is our duty to continue pursuing activities of this kind and to resolutely reject any attempts to push the World War II events into the background. I have been lately sometimes troubled by the feeling that a perception has been created, as if that tragedy concerned only some people, as if it did not concern those, who were not imminently affected by the anti-Jewish Nuremberg race laws. As if – in our case – the Jewish tragedy was not at the same time and to a huge extent a Czech tragedy. We should not accept this perception, for it would imply the implicit acceptance of the whole perverse racial logic of Nazism.

The Jews deported to Terezín were our fellow citizens. They were our neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances or schoolmates of our parents and grandparents. They were our victims. It was the Nazis who identified them as subhuman beings and detached them from the society they were part of. This segregation, employed by the Nazis, cannot be accepted. Let us recognize the fact that the Nazis killed several hundred thousand of our people during the war. In case of their victory, they were also willing to use similar criteria to liquidate hundreds of thousands or millions of others. That, we should never forget.

Nazism deliberately cast aside the entire tradition of humanism that the human civilization until 20th century arrived at. It was a worldwide tragedy that by spreading its thoughts, it gained control over the minds of millions of human beings. That through the hands of these subordinated people it committed the most horrible crimes, both at the battlefront and in the occupied Europe. It is absolutely necessary to constantly remind ourselves of this reality.

Today, 62 years after the war, it may be perceived by some that it is almost politically incorrect to address these issues, that a unifying Europe demands a common perception of history, and that it is necessary to symmetrize guilt and suffering, for there were millions of victims also among the nations of the war aggressors. And there was much human suffering as well, which – through the lens of individual experience – was not dissimilar to the suffering of the citizens of those nations that were invaded by the Nazis.

I consider these tendencies very dangerous for the future of a united Europe as well as for the future of our country. A history devoid of causations ceases to be history and becomes an instrument of current political propaganda and manipulation. It is not any more concerned with the past, but only with the future alone, and with the claims and entitlements that go along with it. Here, at this very sad place, the unacceptability of attempts to rewrite history and to equalize victims and offenders is even more unacceptable than anywhere else. No matter how noble a current European project might be, it can not justify these attempts.

For the generations of those who did not live through the horrors of war and the Holocaust, it is an obligation to learn and comprehend this tragic history in its – for some people sometimes rather unpleasant – complexities. It is an obligation to learn from this history and, even with the experience of the historical guilt of the past generations, to protect that thin skin of civilization, humanity and democracy that is the only guarantee that the evil, hidden in man, will never ever get as much leeway as it did then. This is the obligation we have towards the innocent victims whose memory we honour here today.

Václav Klaus, Terezín, 20.5. 2007


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