The exhibition was jointly opened by the President of the Human Rights Council, the Ambassadors of the European Union, Germany and Israel and the World Jewish Congress. The artist himself, Luigi Toscano, also took part in the inauguration.
The German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano has encountered and portrayed more than 400 survivors of Nazi persecution since 2014 throughout the world for his project "Lest We Forget." 100 of those large-scale portraits of survivors, together with their stories, have been brought to Geneva to speak of the atrocities of the Nazis inside the walls of the Palais and on the Place de Nations, accessible to everyone. Last year, his exhibition was shown in the UN headquarters in New York.
At the exhibition's opening, Leon Saltiel of the World Jewish Congress reminded that "it is very symbolic that this exhibition takes place inside the United Nations, an organization that “rose from the ashes of the Holocaust,” quoting the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger, also addressed the audience: "We cannot change history, but we can make sure that humankind never again witnesses this intolerable horror. This means fighting for democracy, the rule of law and human rights."
Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter stressed that "the survivors, who were witnesses to the horrific depths to which humanity can sink, are the heroes. After the liberation, they have chosen to live, to build families, to contribute to our society." EU Ambassador Stevens joined her in adding that "we owe it to the survivors and to the victims, to always remember these crimes and to collectively commit ourselves to prevent such atrocities from happening ever again."
In view of the rising numbers of antisemitism in Europe and the world, the German Ambassador von Ungern-Sternberg added that "it’s our duty to ensure that every Jewish person in Germany feels at home and safe. The best measure against nationalism, totalitarianism and genocide is and remains the memory of and active confrontation with history."
EU Ambassador Walter Stevens and also spoke at the official solemn ceremony organized by the UN in Geneva, next to the Ambassadors from the US, Russia and Israel, as well as a Holocaust survivor from Belgium, Paul Sobol. In a moving testimony that grappled the audience, Mr Sobol talked about the day he and his family got denounced and deported to Auschwitz: "The moment we arrived at the camp, we were separated, men right, women left. That's when I lost my mother. We were separated so quickly, I didn't have the time to hug her, to say goodbye."
Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General at the UN Office in Geneva, urged the international community to "condemn hate speech unconditionally, counter it with the truth & to do better at looking out for each other."
To conclude the ceremony, Ambassador Stevens said: "The Holocaust is the darkest moment of humanity's history, but it is also a defining legacy of European history. Remembering the Shoah is one cornerstone of European values. A Europe that places humanity at its centre, protected by the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. All EU Member States stand united in the determination that any form of racism, antisemitism and hatred have no place in Europe and we will do whatever it takes to counter them."
After the official ceremony, the supporters of the exhibition organised a candle lightning at the Place des Nations together with the participants of the ceremony. The crowd was joined by Ambassadors and the UNOG Director-General Tatiana Valovaya, guided by the parole that "We remember".