Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it was an honor for him to meet with Holocaust survivors, telling them on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp's liberation that they are a living testament to the strength of humanity.
“Probably, humanity has not yet come up with the words that could describe the indestructability and strength of your spirit,” he said at a dinner on January 26 with Holocaust survivors and their families in Krakow, Poland, organized by the World Jewish Congress.
During his short speech, Zelenskiy denounced anti-Semitism and racism while speaking of the importance of protecting humanitarian values.
“Most of these memories have a common call: ‘Don’t be silent!’ The younger generation must know these stories, know about the horrors of the Holocaust in order to never allow anything like this on the planet again,” he said, receiving a standing ovation for his words.
Speaking through an interpreter, the Ukrainian president added: “You are strong and incredibly courageous. The Holocaust is named the dark period in the history of humanity. And you are the rays of sunshine that penetrated the darkness.”
On January 27, Zelenskiy is set to join more than 200 survivors and delegations from nearly 60 countries at the site of the former concentration camp where 1.1 million people were murdered, most of whom were Jews.
Himself of Jewish heritage, Zelenskiy has said he had family members who perished in the Holocaust.
“Hatred needs to be done away with. It needs to be uprooted. We need to get rid of hatred because this is the single greatest power that is ruining our civilization,” Zelenskiy said. "We must stop evil before it actually threatens humanity.”
He also paid tribute to the Ukrainians who risked their own lives to save Jews, calling them a source of pride.
About 10 percent of the 27,362 Righteous Among The Nations were Ukrainian gentiles, according to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
“I am proud that more than 2,500 Ukrainians have been honored with this high title,” the Ukrainian president said.
Zelenskiy’s speech came amid concerns over a global resurgence in anti-Semitism.
A November 2019 survey by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League found that about one in four Europeans harbor "pernicious and pervasive" attitudes towards Jews, compared with 19 percent of North Americans.
In Germany, 42 percent agreed that "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust,” the survey findings said.
Zelenskiy also is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda during the visit.