December 9, 2002

Speech of thanks for the International Raoul Wallenberg Award by Congressman Gustavo Aristegui

Presentation of the Raoul Wallenberg awards.
Madrid, 9 December 2002

”Mr. Ambassador of Sweden, Mr. Ambassador of Israel, Founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Mr. Executive Director, Your Royal Highness Prince Kostantin of Bulgaria, all of whom I am honoured to call my friends.

This is a very special occasion for me. It is a great pleasure to receive The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, 2002 Award, together with the distinguished diplomat, Ambassador Inbar.

It is not with false modesty when I say that I don’t believe I have the merits to have received such an honorable award. For as long as I can remember, I have admired heroes such as Raoul Wallenberg who risked and lost everything to save and serve his fellow man.

I hope I will be able to live up to, and behave according to, the principles implied by such a prestigious award. In my role as a politician, career diplomat and writer, I pledge to do my upmost in the fight against fanaticism, intolerance, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

If my articles, speeches and declarations in the press have been in any way useful in repremanding those, whose attitudes are a stain on humanity, I am satisfied. I promise to multiply my efforts, if my strength and reason enable me to do so.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many public servants, diplomats, officials and politicians who have served society and helped their fellow men in an anonymous and generous way. These men are inspired by a deep feeling of humanism and not by just a sense of duty to help their fellow men. We must also pay tribute to the millions of anonymous volunteers, who dedicate themselves tirelessly to others, many times in almost impossible conditions.

On this occassion I’d like all of us to remember those who perished as victims of fanaticism and barbarism. Spain, a country beset by terrorism, is risking the rebirth of these extreme prejudices. These feelings of hatred are becoming greater, despite Spain being a country in which holocoust denial is considered a crime. This law was initiated by a parliamentary group which I have the honor of belonging to. Humanity must repay its debt by behaving in a more dignified manner and ensuring that past sins are never repeated.

Raoul Wallenberg was a hero, one of the few who fought against the most horrible barbarism committed by humanity. The holocaust is the blackest chapter in the history of mankind, a disgraceful proof of the level of bestiality that mankind can sink to. Denial of the holocaust, as well as other genocides, are serious crimes. They also represent a dishonor to the victims whom the inhuman ideologists tried to erase from the face of earth.

Tahar Ben Jullum said that it is not that racism and xenophobia (to which I take the liberty of adding anti-Semitism) are returning, but rather that racists, xenophobes and anti-Semites have stopped being ashamed of being what they are. That is why it is our duty to make them feel ashamed and isolated for promoting their disgusting ideology.

Spain will always be a fatherland to the Jews, but we too must remember our shameful past when the Spaniards expelled that vital, essential part of its population – the Sepharadies. I remember a parliamentary speech given by, I’m not sure whether it was, Sagasta or Canovas, in which there was a long list of distinguished Jews, all of whom were descendants of the expelled people. The speaker said, with justification, that those distinguished sons of Sepharad, had been essential members of a more tolerable, open, rich, varied and without doubt, a more important Spain. Spain has to remember its mistreated and sometimes forgotten children who suffered persecution, torture, death, forced conversion or exile from their fatherland.

It is true that today’s fight against fanaticism is not so crucial as in the past. However, the principles of freedom and democracy have been passed down to me from my father and to him from his father. I would like to tell you a story as a homage to another anonymous hero, who was also my grandfather. My grandfather used his position, as General Consul of Spain to Amberes and later as Business Attaché to Brussels and finally as Spanish Ambassador during the Second World War, to save thousands of people, whose only crime was being Jewish, from mass murder. He helped the persecuted Jews of Belgium by providing documents, issuing visas and directly helping whenever possible. But one courageous act of valor stands out above all others. On the last day of the Nazi occupation he went to the Brussels central station. He had found out that a train with thousands of Jews destined for the extermination camps was leaving. Without hesitating he went to the station even though most of the high officials had already left. It was being controlled by a disorganized, frightened and confused troop who were therefore much more dangerous.

When he arrived he stopped the train’s departure, saying that all the people on board were under his protection. When no one paid attention to him, he stood in front of the locomotive, preventing the train from leaving and thus saved the lives of all those on board from certain death in the extermination camps.

Nazi ideology and fascist barbarism are not dead, its ideologists, leaders and executioners may be, but unfortunately its ideas are still tormenting mankind today. We were confident that the nazi defeat in the Second World War had finished this nightmare. But we were wrong. Racial hatred is on the rise again. Fanaticism is rearing its ugly head and in many places cruel oppressive regimes of terror and dictatorship condone and actively promote murder, extermination, genocide and horror as a way of imposing their will on mankind.

We can not lower our guard, we have to be alert. We have to make each person, each organization, each party, each institution which directly or indirectly, expressly or implicitly, promotes or defends hatred or prejudice, responsible. We have to keep on fighting for freedom, tolerance, understanding among cultures, religions and people. We have to make sure that humanity will not suffer the horror of any kind of genocide or extermination again.

We cannot allow another holocaust to happen again. That is the responsibility of every human being of good will. That is why I want to conclude with the phrase that I write in the visitor’s book to Yad Vashem every time I visit: ”To forget is to repeat. To remember is to honor the victims of the worst crime that humanity has suffered. Always remember so that this NEVER happens again.”