It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend Ambassador Sandro De Bernardin. Serving as IHRA Chair under the 2018 Italian IHRA Presidency, he was a champion of the IHRA’s work. His professionalism and dedication helped the organization confront new challenges, such as Holocaust distortion.
Born in Venice in 1949, Ambassador De Bernardin was a career diplomat from 1973-2014. He served in Kinshasa, Paris, and Ottawa and was Ambassador to Israel from 2004–2008. From 2008–2010 he was Deputy Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was Director General for Political and Security Affairs from 2011–2014. He served as Italy’s Head of Delegation from 2015 before serving as IHRA Chair in 2018.
“We are all, at the Italian Foreign Ministry as well as at the Italian Delegation at the IHRA, deeply saddened by the loss of a great and loyal friend, a wonderful and sensitive human being, a man of moral principles and democratic values, a tireless fighter against racism and antisemitism,” said Head of the Italian Delegation to the IHRA, Ambassador Maccotta.
Ambassador De Bernardin’s IHRA Presidency elevated the organization’s profile. He spoke, for example, at the UN General Assembly in New York for the annual observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The theme of the memorial ceremony was “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights.” Addressing the audience, he said, “The first human right to be protected is the right to memory. Therefore, the defense of human rights should start with the safeguarding of the record and the countering of distortion. Human rights are a public good and, as such, the property of all. A public good is indivisible: so, it cannot be denied to anybody, neither an individual nor a given group.”
An advocate for academic freedom and for “preserving the truth as it actually was,” Ambassador De Bernardin also led an IHRA mission to the Vatican for an exchange of views with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See. This contributed to the Holy See’s decision to open the Pius XII Archives.
The effect of his Presidency reverberated for years thereafter. He helped the late Head of the Austrian Delegation, Ambassador Thomas Michael Bayer, start the process which led to the IHRA’s recognition as an international organization under German law. He also launched the idea of drafting a Ministerial Declaration to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration.
Deeply committed to the remembrance of survivors, Ambassador De Bernardin advanced a culture of memory that could serve as an antidote to all forms of intolerance and discrimination. Quoting the English poet John Donne, he underlined this during his opening remarks at the International Conference “The Racist Laws Before and After the Shoah” under the 2018 Italian Presidency: “when you hear the sound of the bell of discrimination ‘never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you’.”
Our thoughts are with his family and with the members of the Italian delegation to the IHRA. He will be sorely missed.