RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) — New Brazilian President Dilma Russeff said at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony that "The Holocaust is not and will never be just a historic moment."
"The duty of the memory should not be mistaken for passiveness of the ordinary remembrance," said Rousseff, who started her term a month ago, at the Jan. 27 ceremony. "Memory is the human weapon to prevent the repetition of the barbarism."
The ceremony was held by Jewish officials in Porto Alegre, the capital city of Rio Grande do Sul state and home of Brazil’s third largest Jewish community with some 12,000 Jews. The state also has a large number of German descendants and has been the site of several neo-Nazi attacks.
"We must not allow any kind of human rights violation in any country, and especially in Brazil," added Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. "The Jewish tradition and dignity integrate the Brazilian nationality in a special way."
Claudio Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, said that "As leader of a community that is intensively engaged in the Brazilian life, I have the moral duty to align with those who preserve the democracy and those who fight against the intolerant. Ms. President, you know better than all of us what it means to be tortured and have your right to expression subtracted."
Following Brazil’s 1964 coup d’etat, Rousseff joined left-wing and Marxist urban guerrilla groups that fought against the military dictatorship. Captured and jailed between 1970 and 1972, she endured 22 days of torture, including electric shock and a special device of the Brazilian military known as the pau de arara, designed to cause severe joint and muscle pain.
Rousseff was sentenced to six years of imprisonment and 18 years without political rights. The sentence was later shortened to three years, and she was released in 1973.
Lottenberg added that he is glad to know that Rousseff has a different position regarding Iran than her successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who personally befriended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and never openly condemned Iran’s disrespect of human rights.