Speech by Romano Prodi
President of the European Commission
Entry by President Romano Prodi in the visitor's book at Auschwitz
Auschwitz, 1 October 1999
I have come here today, at the beginning of my term as President of the European Commission, to listen, to ask, to remember.
I am here to listen to the voices coming out of the night of the Shoah. The pain of the victims and the words of those who survived. The dead victims are still present. There is an unbreakable bond now between them and us. Their presence in us is an everlasting condemnation of evil. Allow me to say that that presence is the place of our unease, our awareness, our responsibility.
But I am here, too, to ask, to understand. The visitor crossing the threshold of this camp is always struck by the scornful jibe inscribed over it, "Arbeit macht frei". Here everyone was considered a workpiece, to be used, consumed, discarded.
The writing over the entrance to the camp lays bare the deep core of all exploitation: use, consume, discard. There should have been other words here: "What is man?"
The Shoah is not an incident in history, a regional crisis, a dramatic event, like all the others known to history.
The Shoah is a crisis of human history. It is a crisis of the human.
The Shoah could be ordered because men had completely perverted the meaning of man. Not just life was violated, but death too. Debased, rendered horribly obscene, bureaucratic, technical. Here a radical challenge to the human was cast down in a work of anti-creation.
From that time onward we know that the human is not a given, that the human is still possible, through goodness, solidarity, peace, but that it is never certain once and for all.
I am here to remember.
This happened in the heart of Europe. As men and as Europeans we bear the burden.
The Shoah took place before and during a war for whose crimes and wickednesses the countries and nations of Europe bear differing measures of responsibility, and for which we Europeans must ask pardon.
And the seeking of pardon will become for us the guardianship of these memories. These memories are an ethical and historical warning and a spiritual warning to us. They remind us that this happened and can happen again. Because the evil happened in Auschwitz; and thereafter, in our own days, we in Europe have again known ethnic cleansing, fanaticism, the regurgitations of totalitarianism.
The seeking of pardon will become the solemn affirmation we all have to make: never again!
Only then can this place speak of reconciliation, forcing us to think about the workings of our democracies, the cultural and moral development as well as the economic development of our societies, and the task that awaits Europe.
The new Europe has to be the Europe of rights recognised and practised; the Europe of free people living in solidarity; the Europe that enforces right and justice.