Lessons from Holocaust for a Time of Conflict

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ambassador Cohen speaks during an interview with The Japan News in Tokyo on Thursday.

Jan. 27 marked the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau near the end of World War II. Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen recently spoke with The Japan News about the significance of this anniversary in the upheaval of today’s world and his hope to convey lessons from the tragedy to younger generations.

The following edited remarks are excerpted from the interview.

From hate to compassion

The Holocaust was the most horrible tragedy of mankind. It is very important to commemorate, very important to talk about it, to draw lessons from it. We are in a time of war in Europe. In Ukraine, we see the atrocities of war. We also see economic crisis and a world pandemic. Things that are threatening mankind and challenging it. In difficult times, there is a tendency toward hatred against others, against minorities, and against Jews. Antisemitism always rises amid war or economic difficulties.

We should learn from this. We should learn how to be more compassionate, to reach out our hands to people in trouble, and in wartime, to save them from atrocities. We have to make sure it will never happen to anybody again.

U.N. commemoration

As a diplomat in Israel’s mission to the United Nations in New York, I led the efforts to have Jan. 27 designated as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust. The first special session to commemorate the Holocaust was held in January 2005. When I was in New York, I knew that the U.N. was not a very easy arena for Israel. It is a political arena, so you have to get the support of the powers of the United Nations, the United States and Russia. We joined hands with the European Union, Canada and others.

What is important is that it is worldwide now. The most important thing is that the world has been thinking about it. Lessons should be drawn in today’s time of conflict, with civilians being killed. This is a mechanism to remember, to make sure it never happens again.

Future generations

In a few years’ time, there won’t be any more Holocaust survivors. I am very concerned. But this is still a living memory. We have to draw lessons for the future, especially young people.

I travel a lot in Japan and talk to children at schools. I ask them, if they were in the shoes of Chiune Sugihara [a Japanese diplomat who issued visas for Jews fleeing persecution during World War II]: “Would you do the same thing? Or would you just ignore the Jews who were trying to save themselves, who were being slaughtered only because they were Jews?” I think there is understanding, and that children or young people at universities want to learn and understand. I am very happy with this.

It is important to teach the young generations. Because survivors are becoming fewer and fewer. To continuously teach the world, conveying these lessons to coming generations will make the world better place. It’s about peace and defending human rights.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Cohen

Born in Israel in 1967, Gilad has held positions including political secretary at the Israeli Embassies in Brazil and Turkey and political counselor in Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations in New York from 2004 to 2008. He assumed his ambassadorial post in Tokyo in 2021.