RIO DE JANEIRO — “It’s impossible to deny the Holocaust,” Brazil’s president said at a ceremony held in the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was, at his request, the main speaker at Wednesday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Kahal Zur Israel synagogue in Recife.

“Nobody has the right to ignore the extermination of the Jewish people,” Lula said. “I showed Iran it’s impossible to deny the Holocaust.”

The Brazilian leader was referring to his talks with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a meeting held last November in Brasilia. A few days before, Lula had also welcomed separately Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lula added that he will visit the Middle East in March and deliver “a message of tolerance and peace.”

Several Jewish and non-Jewish officials attended the ceremony, including Holocaust survivors. It was the fifth time that Lula had attended the annual event, which was held for the first time in a city other than the major Jewish centers of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Founded in 1636, Kahal Zur Israel was built in Recife during a short Dutch rule in the northeastern corner of Brazil. The synagogue was the first Jewish temple established in the New World.

Today the building hosts a cultural center that is among the most visited tourist spots in Recife. Built later, in 1732, the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue in Curacao is the oldest synagogue in the Americas still in use.