Thursday, May 01, 2008

Yom HaShoah

Israel stands in silence to remember the 6 million martyrs and heroes that perished during the Shoah.

President Shimon Peres' Message at the Opening Ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2008, Yad Vashem

Sixty-three years have passed since the end of the most destructive, bloody war mankind has ever known - World War II.

Victory over Nazi Germany restored the values of the human race, and saved Europe from sinking into an age of darkness and destruction.

The racist madness of Nazi Germany cost sixty million people their lives. Six million Jews, a third of the entire Jewish people, were wiped out by that satanic machine. They were annihilated simply because they were Jewish. Their blood will never cease to cry out from the soil of Europe, most of which was conquered by the Nazis.

I have been a believer all my life, but that doesn't help me to understand what happened. To this day, I am unable to comprehend how young, educated Germans could aim their rifles at a pregnant woman, shoot her in cold blood, rip the hair off her head, pull out her teeth and then go away to eat and rest, only to return and shoot a day-old baby. Nothing has the power to drown out the cries of babies shot in cold blood.

Occasionally a madman makes his appearance. But how could it happen, I ask myself, that an entire nation could elect a madman, prostrate itself before his sadism and demagoguery, give him the title of "Chancellor", and shower him with acclaim?

How does a nation not rise up at the sight of murderers rampaging through its streets, the sight of army tanks moving forward relentlessly and mercilessly, bent on destroying erstwhile neighbors and friends.

I find it hard to understand how other countries stood by, blinded and paralyzed in the face of this viper. Some of them even signed agreements with the Devil himself, joined his ranks and fought in his armies.

My heart trembles when I am reminded that Hitler could have developed nuclear weapons too. A genocidal leader with weapons of mass-destruction - what would have remained of our world then?

It is not easy for us to compose ourselves, and perhaps we shouldn't. The passage of time does not necessarily calm us. The poet's words about truth rising from the grave ring in my ears, and my heart vibrates with the memory of six million brothers and sisters, buried in a graveyard the likes of which have never been seen, nor will never be seen again. They live within every one of us.

"What I have lost is mine forever", wrote Rachel.

I also ask myself what would have happened to the Jewish people if we would have had the powerful country we have today in the time of Hitler. We could have done things that others refrained from doing.

It's possible that we were late in establishing a state, and paid a heavy price - for in history, one mustn't hesitate. But we did rise again, and gathered in our people. We returned to our Homeland, we resurrected our language, and we opened our gates to Holocaust survivors. We fended off seven military attacks and two intifadas designed to defeat us. We also signed two peace agreements. We began to tap the hidden potential we discovered within ourselves. While the shadow of death still hovered, new life started to take hold.

We established an army that knows how to win, and is capable of defending a peace-seeking nation. We proved that our spirit was not broken. The catastrophe of the Holocaust did not destroy our ability to establish a just way of life. The Holocaust demanded a supreme effort on our part. Even after our blood had been spilled, we succeeded in becoming first in the world - in agriculture, medicine, and self-defense.

We will not forget, we will not cover up, and we will not stop asking ourselves anew each morning, what we can do so that what happened will never happen again. And we will remember - history has taught us to be vigilant. We must cultivate both our spiritual and physical power. We have to strengthen our position, with the power of justice and justifiable power. We need to seek out friends in this world, and to demand that they keep their eyes open and recognize imminent danger, rather than offer comfort after the fact.

What is expected of us, we will bear on our shoulders. What is expected of the world should be acted upon without delay. If the countries of the world had not delayed, and would have identified the Nazi threat in time, they could have prevented Hitler from murdering tens of millions of people. They could have prevented war from breaking out.

We stand here today with tears in our eyes, and yet we will not immerse ourselves in our tears. Only a strong country is entitled to mourn its children. Only a nation that believes in itself can commemorate them in a fitting manner.

Only a state with deterrence power, with an army worthy of its reputation, bent on peace, can ensure that the memory of those who perished will never be obliterated.

We shall pray together. We will say Kaddish in their memory. And we will sound the notes of "Hatikvah" for the generations to come.

May their memory be blessed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Yad Vashem, 2008

Six million people.

One, and one more, and another family, and two more, and another baby, and another adolescent, and another bride at her wedding, and another nursing mother, and another elderly person, and one hundred more, and ten thousand more - and the monstrous, inconceivable number - six million.

Six million people.

Sixty-three years have passed since the hellish activities of the death factories operated by the Nazis and their helpers were stopped. More than two generations have passed since the wheels of the well-oiled death machines ceased ending the lives of more and more Jews.

However, with the passage of time, the dimensions of the horrific Holocaust are beyond the understanding of intelligent people, too appalling to perceive, too chilling to accept.

Even sixty-three years later who would believe that hatred of Jews and Israelis would rear its ugly head on various stages around the world - still inciting, poisonous and seditious. And among them can be counted the voices of the deniers. Their animosity drives them insane, and they foolishly deny the greatest horror ever known to humanity. To them - the haters, the deniers and the devisers of malice, wherever they may be - and to all those who allow them to act, we say on this day: never again!

You who deny the truth documented in millions of documents; you who deny the train tracks and the crematoria and the death camps left behind as a silent memorial; you who deny the eyewitness testimony of millions of people - historical accuracy does not interest you. You wish to deny the justifiability of the existence of a Jewish state - and are wrong to think that the Jewish state was established as a result of the Holocaust. Ostensibly - invalidate the Holocaust and you also invalidate the reason for the existence of the State.

However the State of Israel - which this week celebrates 60 years of independence - does not exist because of the Holocaust. The State of Israel is the realization of the Jewish people's natural right to live as a free nation in its land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem. The Holocaust simply emphasized the need to establish it - and the horrific price the Jewish people had to pay due to the lack of a country which could serve as a shield and a safe haven for Jews of the world.

Never again will a Jewish child be led, with his hands held up as a sign of surrender, to the valley of death; never again will a man be separated from his wife, a child from her father and a grandson from his grandfather - only because they are Jews. Never again will the elderly be humiliated in the town square, mocked and beaten to their last breath - only because they are Jews.

Distinguished Guests,

This year the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day is marking the immigration, heroism and lives of the hundreds of thousands of survivors who built their homes in Israel - those who gathered the fragments of their shattered lives and gathered their strength to fulfill their dream.

Many of the young men and women, who several years earlier had fought for their lives in the ghettos and death camps, joined the struggle for the establishment of the country when they immigrated to Israel. Armed with simple and meager Hebrew weapons, with brief and accelerated training, the immigrants were sent to the most important war of their people, the War of Independence.

This is how we upheld the command "And you chose life" in practice. Many of those same fighters did not return from the battles at the various fronts, from the fighting in the underground and later in the IDF units which were founded.

Next week, when we remember the fallen in Israel's campaigns and mark sixty years since the establishment of the state, we will remember them as well, the persecuted who became saviors, the heroes who sacrificed their lives to save others, the dreamers who became fighters, those whose blood bequeathed us life on the earth of this land.

However, many of the Holocaust survivors who were drawn into our lives from the camps, the ghettos, the loneliness of the forests - became an inseparable part of Israeli society. There is no sphere of life, the army or security, science and culture, education and sport, in universities and at research institutions, rebuilding the Yeshiva world and in renewing Torah learning - in which these people did not contribute, who only years earlier struggled to survive the concentration camps and succeeded in escaping by the skin of their teeth, literally and figuratively. They drew on tremendous reserves of the will to live, the courage to endure their pain and immense passion to start new lives, full of hope and full of power - in the new country which had just been born.

At the exhibition currently taking place here at the Yad Vashem Museum, something wondrous can be seen - how Israeliness, that same distinctive and unique spirit which we, the Sabras, native-born Israelis boasted our entire lives that we created, is in many cases the fruits of imagination and creative talent of the Holocaust survivors who came here as adolescents or young adults who learned there and who barely spoke our language.

"Srulik" - created by Dosh; some expressions of humor most characteristic of the renewed Israeli slang were introduced into the Hebrew language by a journalist, a refugee from the Holocaust, who immigrated from Hungary, named Ferenc Kishon, otherwise known as Ephraim Kishon; some of the most prominent brands which represent Israeli industry and economy, as well as social and cultural institutions - were not designed by a Sabra with a wind-blown forelock, but rather by a designer, a Holocaust survivor, and future Israel Prize recipient named Dan Reisinger. And so on and so forth - in theater, in cinema, in sports, in science, in education, in security - in all spheres of our lives.

On this day more than any other day - we bow deeply in gratitude; we stand erect in boundless pride of the contribution by Holocaust survivors to building this country.

There is no force in the world which comes close to the spirit of this people, which burst forth from the chasm of destruction to the heights of creativity and success, the building and strength, of the State of Israel.

On this day it is appropriate that I say as Prime Minister of Israel - the State did not always fulfill its duty to the survivors. Regrettably, we sinned and failed by depriving the survivors of their right to live a life of quality and dignity, and we did not always include their needs in the range of issues on the agenda when allocating our resources. We spoke of the Holocaust and its lessons, of the murderers and their victims, but our eyes were blind to some of the survivors who lived lives of wretchedness and poverty. There is no justification for this nor can it be forgiven.

We have changed this. We allocated resources this year and for the coming years to ensure that all survivors live in dignity. This was done not only as an attempt to atone for the past sins of all the Governments of Israel - but rather to uphold the supreme moral obligation which we are proud to recognize, and bear the full responsibility for it.

Today the 60-year-old State of Israel promises the millions of Jews who disappeared into the eternal silence that we will forever uphold the memory of the events of the Holocaust. The rebirth of the state, its blossoming and its prosperity, and the Holocaust survivors living lives of dignity here - these are the best way to remember and move forward.

We will remember, we will remind and we will be remembered - here, tomorrow and in general - for in the memory there is rebirth, and in building the future, security and peace of the State of Israel - we will find our hope and our comfort.

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