To the solemn strains of a choir, U.N. officials gathered in Vienna on Monday to kick off a week of events worldwide marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps.
Evoking images of the piles of human hair, eyeglasses and empty suitcases at Auschwitz, diplomats urged the international community to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.
Patrick Villemur, France's representative to U.N. organizations based in the Austrian capital, reminded about 200 officials and employees who gathered in the rotunda of the U.N. complex overlooking the Danube River that the United Nations was founded "as the world was awakening to the full horror of the camps."
Villemur urged nations to keep pulling together to ensure "there is never a repetition of these nightmares."
The Vienna gathering came ahead of a much-larger commemoration later Monday at U.N. headquarters in New York, where Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, were to address the General Assembly.
Grigory Berdennikov, Russia's permanent representative to the U.N. agencies in Vienna, recalled how Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz 60 years ago this Thursday. The Nazis' slaughter of 6 million Jews, he said, "will remain in the world's memory as a horrific crime."
"Time will not diminish the meaning of their sacrifice," he said. "It is important to remember the lessons of history so it will not be repeated."
Peter Redmond Jenkins, Britain's chief envoy in Vienna, described how he and his family visited Austria's notorious Mauthausen labor camp last summer so he could teach his young children about "one of the darkest stains on Europe's history."
Only by working together can the world hope to "stamp out genocide wherever it may occur," Jenkins said.
"Without constant vigilance, (death camps) could again be part of our future," U.S. diplomat David Noble warned.
"Let us ensure that Auschwitz and the other camps will remain a byword of history for the path humanity refuses to take," he said.
In a brief but emotional address, Israeli diplomat Israel Michaeli said the Jewish state forever will bear the scars of the Holocaust, which he described as "the culmination of 1,500 years of anti-Semitism and hatred."
"Every generation must be on its guard to ensure such evil never happens again," he said.
Among the U.N. organizations headquartered in Vienna are the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.N. Industrial Development Organization and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs.