Full address by President Klaus Iohannis marking National Holocaust Remembrance Day

President Klaus Iohannis paid his respects this morning to the Holocaust victims on behalf of the Romanian state during a ceremony occasioned by the National Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating October 9th 1941, the date when deportation of Jewish and Roma population started in Romania. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is visiting our country, attended the ceremony alongside the newly-appointed US Ambassador to Bucharest Hans Klemm, several other officials, Holocaust survivors and relevant organizations.

Klaus Iohannis: Mr Speaker of the Knesset,

Mr Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies,

Members of the Cabinet,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Ambassadors,

Mr President of Jewish Communities Federation and representatives of Holocaust victims organizations, Head of Elie Wiesel Institute,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the occasion of the National Holocaust Remembrance Day in Romania, I am here to pay my respects on behalf of the Romanian state and my nation, to all victims of this terrible tragedy in the 20th century. Heavy-hearted, but with our minds now free of prejudices belonging to a dark past, we are here to remember and pay our respects to those who fell victims to xenophobic, racist, discriminating and anti-Semitic policies and to honor the survivors.

I am stepping today on the stone of this impressive memorial for the first time as President and I hope future heads of the Romanian state will always come back here to remind everybody that the Holocaust is singular and cannot be forgotten.

This is not a place chosen by chance, it lays right in the heart of Bucharest, near a public institution. Its purpose is precisley to remind us that the Jewish and Roma tragedy happened amidst our society and to reiterate the responsibility instilled on the Romanian state for the inhumane acts committed on racist and ethnic criteria during World War II.

During Communism, the truth about this part of recent history was held back from Romanians. The horrors were only attributed to the enemies and they were the ones made accountable for, most of the times. Thus, we were  forced to study a distorted history instead of discovering the outright truth. However, during the last decade, Romania has chosen once and for all to responsibly and consciously face this painful past, to take responsibility for it, to discuss it and to understand it. This is, I believe, a form of wisdom and strength and not a weakness. Today, Romania is a country that has taken significant steps in acknowledging and undertaking responsibility for the Holocaust.
As a result, besides this Memorial, we have established an official remembrance day, we have courses dedicated to this subject, a high-school textbook, a specialized institute and open archives regarding the Jewish genocide that everyone can study.
All the way, this has been a difficult process but we have managed to prove we have totally learned the lesson of the past. We chose to keep an open eye, to prevent and counteract early forms of hatred, discrimination and offence by denial or downplaying against the Jewish genocide. We chose to responsibly defend civil liberties each and every day, by law, by resorting to justice and not only in the books. That is why I can assure you such acts belonging to troubled times can no longer reoccur in Romania.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For us today, the Trans-Dniester back in WW II bears the image of a far away land where children, elders, innocent men and women were deported and forced to live in ghettoes and concentration camps.
Chilled to the marrow on steril fields, tormented by hunger, exhausted by disease, hounded, persecuted or gunned down. Tens of thousands perished there between 1941-1944 solely for being Jewish or Roma. More than seven decades after those tragic times, the suffering of the survivors cannot be erased, the pain cannot subside and the things they have lost can never be retrieved. However, we can keep their memory alive and build a better world where dignity and liberty of human beings are defended and unconditionally guaranteed.
Right now, when thousands of refugees find themselves at the gates of our continent, temptation for racism and populism tends to resurrect. Alongside all European countries, we have the duty to repel this. I strongly believe we can overcome this complicated situation together and positively cope with it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In terms of collective memory, I have vouched from the very beginning that defending the memory of the Holocaust victims would be one of my term’s goals. I am aware this compelx endeavor goes a long way,  but I believe results will not be delayed. Any form of intolerance, racism, hatred and discrimination represents a threat to democracy. That is why I am going to keep defending those examples and actions in the society that concur to responsibility and tolerance, non-discrimination and respect for the dignity of human beings.
I strongly believe that undertaking responsibility for the past must be transformed in public policy and I convey my full support for setting up of a Holocaust and Jewish Museum in Bucharest. I have recently announced the start of a broad consultation regarding education and, in the future, I want to stress out right here, this is another major subject for public debate which I am going to promote. In terms of Holocaust memory, education has a fundamental role in instilling democratic values. Significant institutional effort has already been made, but there are still young people who know nothing about the Holocaust, about horrors and errors made during those years and this is something we should set right.
New generations have the duty to understand, to acknowledge the tragedy of the Holocaust and to act with dignity in relation to history so that similar atrocities never repeat themselves.
In the end, I want to express my full appreciation for the activity carried on at The „Elie Wiesel” National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, which is marking its 10th year in existence . As I said before, Romania has taken significant steps in acknowledging the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive; solidarity in this direction is strong and abiding and the reunion today of authorities and relevant organizations alike is the proof.

May their memory be forever kept alive in our hearts! Thank you!

Traducerea: Bianca Ioniţă