Speech by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Published

Great Synagogue of Stockholm, 27 January 2022. Check against delivery.

Holocaust survivors,

Honourable guests,

Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to speak here today.

Earlier today, Emerich Roth was laid to rest. There are many of us mourning the void his death has left in our lives.

It is difficult to encapsulate the significance of his accomplishments. Lecturer and writer. Organiser and debater. One of the most prominent public educators of our time, whose message reached so many people, not least young people.

For Emerich Roth, reaching young people was crucial. He emphasised the importance of future generations not only learning about the Holocaust, but also from the Holocaust.

And what is remembrance if not learning? The Talmud says, “What you teach your son, you teach your son’s son”. We teach our sons – and our daughters – about the Holocaust, but also about the lessons of the Holocaust. And in so doing, we also teach their sons and daughters.

We teach them to tell the stories of those who were murdered. But we also teach them about those who murdered, those who watched it happen, and those who looked away. And we teach about and learn from those who survived. What they experienced during the war and in the camps. And about their lives afterwards. About the weight of the legacy they had to bear.

The latter is the theme of Gabriel Francke Rodau’s book, Leons bok. The main character, Leon, a second-generation Holocaust survivor and widower with no children, begins to write letters to the children he never had. He writes about universal things: family, belonging, friends and love. But he also writes about the heavy legacy, and I quote:

“Speak about your grandmother and grandfather and their families who were murdered. And speak about how and why they came to Sweden. We have to tell, or people will forget. And the day they forget...”

“The day they forget...” These words have stuck in my mind. Not “if they forget” but “the day they forget.” This is an important perspective.

Particularly at a time when we see more and more attempts at Holocaust denial and distortion. It is a reminder that remembrance in not just about history, but also about imagining an inconceivable future.

Remembrance means that we have to promise ourselves and each other, over and over again, that it will never happen again. And that we have to constantly ask ourselves what actions we are taking today to ensure that “the day they forget” never becomes a reality.

That’s what we must do as human beings, but we must also do so as a nation. And as Prime Minister, I am well aware of my responsibility for the latter. I am humbled by the task but I do not lack role models.

When I was working for Göran Persson, he took the initiative to establish the Living History Forum and for the book ‘Tell ye your children’. My predecessor, Stefan Löfven, convened the Malmö International Forum for Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, and the pledges that Sweden made at the Forum will obviously be implemented by my Government with pride and determination.

Last year, when I was elected Prime Minister, Sweden was commemorating one hundred years of universal and equal suffrage. But history has also taught us that although the right to vote is fundamental to every democratic society, it in itself is not enough. Democracy requires free and independent media, judicial independence, not forgetting the effective protection of minorities.

As democrats, we must therefore combat all forms of antisemitism, vigilantly and consistently. The fact that Jews in Sweden hesitate to wear a kippa or Star of David for fear of threats and violence can never be regarded as a problem only for the individual who is affected. It is a problem for our entire country, our democracy and our way of life.

That is why we teach our sons and daughters to join the fight against antisemitism and its manifestations. We have been fighting against many of its manifestations for a long time.

Holocaust denial and distortion. Antisemitic slogans disguised as criticism of the State of Israel. Hatred of Jews that is excused and glossed over. And more recently, conspiracy theories about George Soros and the shameful comparisons between anti-vaccine protesters and the victims of Nazism.

This is why Sweden will teach all its sons and daughters that although being subjected to antisemitism is a uniquely Jewish experience, our entire nation will take part in the fight against antisemitism. Because the fight is for all of us. As human beings. As democrats. As Swedes.

That is why – as Prime Minister and as a Swede – I will never falter: Sweden is a country in which Jewish life is just as integral to our society as it is indispensable.

That is what we teach our sons and daughters, and thus also their sons and daughters.