Seventy-four years ago, in July 1936, a Jewish journalist from Prague named Stefan Lux burst into the hall of the League of Nations in Geneva. Like many European Jews at the time, Lux was driven to anguish and even madness by the world's indifference to the eruption of anti-Semitism throughout the continent and especially in Nazi Germany. The international community, though, reacted indifferently to the scourge. Indeed, the League was engaged with a long list of issues -- most notably Italy's annexation of Ethiopia -- but not the mounting mortal threat to European Jews. Desperate to draw global attention to Jewry's plight, Lux staged the ultimate demonstration: He ran to the podium, shouted, "C'est le dernier coup!" -- This is the final blow! -- and, producing a pistol, shot himself dead.
Lux's sacrifice was, of course, futile. Wrought by anti-Semitism, his death could be counted among the six million Jews -- together with twice that number of Poles, Christian clergy, homosexuals and Gypsies -- slaughtered in what we collectively call the Holocaust. Still, history's greatest atrocity might have been easily averted had the League of Nations interceded in time or even at all. Subsequent acts of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur were met with similar detachment. Nevertheless, the international community is today largely united around the conviction that silence in the face of mass annihilation is unconscionable. A prominent example of this conviction was rendered by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 in designating January 27 -- the anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation -- as the International Day of Holocaust Commemoration.
Many events will mark this occasion worldwide, including state visits by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Poland and Germany to lay wreaths at memorials and concentration camp sites. Here in Washington, some 60 ambassadors will assemble in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and hear addresses from Holocaust survivors and historians, while the White House will send a Presidential Delegation to Krakow, the scene of one of Poland's deadliest ghettos.
Such actions are crucial not only for perpetuating the memories of those who perished but from preventing additional massacres in the future. Even as delegates gathered this week to mourn the Holocaust's victims, a Polish bishop and professor assailed the Jews for exploiting the Holocaust as "a weapon of propaganda used to obtain benefits which are often unjustified." And while it's worthy to applaud the United Nations for initiating a Holocaust Commemoration Day, we should not forget that the U.N. recently hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust's veracity and called for the elimination of another six million Jews (in Israel).
Anti-Semitism, too, remains rampant in many parts of the world, including Europe. The United Nations has also made a significant contribution to the fight against this oldest of hatreds by recognizing anti-Semitism as a form of racism. Still, immense efforts must be mounted to prevent the airing of TV programs based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and to dispel pernicious myths such as Jewish dominance of international finance and the media. Younger generations, in particular, vastly removed from the realities of World War II, must be reminded that the road originating in venomous words led to the ovens of Auschwitz.
By devoting substantive resources to the fight against anti-Semitism and, more broadly, acknowledging the continuing perils of genocide, the Obama Administration has set an example of how other countries can work to prevent 21st century recurrences of the Holocaust. The United Nations and other world bodies have also recognized the danger and have rallied to meet it. Much more energy must be channeled, however, and awareness raised, on the hatred of Jews and other minorities and its potentially murderous consequences. Stefan Lux -- whose name, fittingly, is Latin for "light" -- tried to expose the horrors emanating from indifference. We, more than seven decades later, must never lose sight of that beacon.