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UN chief decries antisemitism, urges stand against hatred

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was alarmed to learn recently that barely half of adults worldwide have heard of the Holocaust.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during interview at the UN Headquarters, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in New York. As he starts his second term as U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres said Thursday the world is worse in many ways than it was five years ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical tensions that have sparked conflicts everywhere -- but unlike U.S. President Joe Biden he thinks Russia will not invade Ukraine.(AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried the resurgence of antisemitism in comments Tuesday night at a service commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and he urged people around the world to “stand firm against hate and bigotry anywhere and everywhere.”

The U.N. chief said he was alarmed to learn recently that barely half of adults worldwide have heard of the Holocaust, which saw the murder of 6 million Jews, comprising one-third of the Jewish people, and millions of others during World War II. He said the lack of knowledge among the younger generations “is worse still.”

“Our response to ignorance must be education,” Guterres said. “Governments everywhere have a responsibility to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust.”

He spoke at the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Service at Park East Synagogue on the eve of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2005 establishing the annual commemoration and chose Jan. 27, the day the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by troops from the Soviet Union in 1945.

Guterres said the rise in antisemitism — “the oldest form of hate and prejudice” — has seen new reports of physical attacks, verbal abuse, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues vandalized, and last week the hostage-taking of the rabbi and members of Beth Israel Congregation in Colleyville, Texas.

Around the world, Guterres said, Jewish boys are warned not to wear a kippa, the skullcap worn by observant Jews, in public “for fear of being assaulted,” and there are conspiracy theories devolving into “heinous antisemitic tropes” and “deeply disturbing attempts to deny, distort or minimize the Holocaust,” especially on the internet.

He welcomed the Jan. 20 adoption by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly of a resolution condemning a denial of the Holocaust and urging all nations and social media companies “to take active measures to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.”

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and Park East Synagogue’s senior rabbi whose family perished in the crematorium of Auschwitz, spoke of witnessing the burning of his synagogue in Vienna, his birthplace, on Kristellnacht — Nov. 9, 1938. It was the beginning of the Holocaust, the night Hitler and his henchmen destroyed every temple in Germany and Austria.

Schneier said “hate mongers” always target houses of worship, saying the perpetrator of last week’s hostage-taking in Texas flew from England “to commit this vicious attack.” The hostages managed to escape and 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, who had ranted against Jews, was killed by police.

Schneier said his hopes and dreams that no other people would have to suffer the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews have been “shattered by persistent antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, all forms of hatred and Holocaust denial.” This has been exacerbated today “by societal upheaval, social media, and pandemic conspiracy theories” as well as “camouflaged anti-Zionism, which is really also a manifestation of antisemitism.”

Schneier said he was forced to wear a yellow star “to be marked for dehumanization and death” by the Nazis. “For anyone to wear a yellow star after 1945 is not ignorance, it is a sign of vicious hatred,” he said, pointing to opponents of coronavirus vaccinations who showed up at municipal meetings in Kansas wearing yellow stars, “equating themselves with victims of the Holocaust.”

“Distorted Holocaust analogies can only be countered through education,” the rabbi said. “Children are born to love, and they are taught how to hate. They must be guided not just to tolerate `others’ but to respect and accept your neighbor.”