IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi at Auschwitz-Birkenau: "I salute to the ashes of our people and vow: Never Again."
His honor, the Hungarian Defense Minister,
His honor, the Deputy Education Minister,
His honor, the Chairman of the European-Jewish Union in France,
His honor, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Me’ir Lau – A brand plucked out of the fire;
The bereaved families;
The wounded soldiers and their families;
Members of the IDF ‘Witnesses in Uniform’ delegation;
Teenagers from Israel and from around the world;
Distinguished guests and friends from around the world:
I am honored to be here today and to share this significant experience with you. I will begin in Hebrew and will say a few words in English later on in my address.
Here, on this cursed land, saturated with the blood of our brothers and sisters, descendants of the Jewish nation;
Here, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp, the most evil place on the face of the planet, where our people, whose only crime was being Jewish, were tortured and murdered in gas chambers and crematoria;
Here, in the place where the Nazi oppressor reduced our humanity to serial numbers – no more names, no more faces, no identity – all that remained was a number branded on the forearm; Here in this most dreadful place, I stand on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, as the commander of the Israel Defense Forces.
With hundreds of "Witnesses in Uniform" by my side – joining the thousands of representatives of the IDF who come here every year, commanders of the Ground Forces, the Air Force and the Navy – the defending force of the Jewish people, reborn in its land – with tight lips, a coarse voice and tears in my eyes, yet still standing tall – I salute to the ashes of our people and vow: "Never Again."
We, soldiers of the IDF, emissaries of a country and of a nation, stand here today wearing the IDF uniform and carrying the flag of the State of Israel with pride in the name of the tens of thousands of the IDF warriors and commanders. We consider ourselves the executor of the last will and testament, the dream and the silent prayer of our six million Jewish brothers and sisters whose existence was brutally expunged by the Nazi oppressor.
Major B’naya Rein, may his memory be blessed, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, made the following journal entry during his visit to Poland in July of the year 2000:
"I’ve arrived home, to the cemetery of the Jewish people; the cemetery of my grandfather’s family and the cemetery of my grandmother’s family. Throughout my entire journey in Poland, death has followed me. However, I know that this death has produced lives and these lives include me, you, all of us.
"It is these lives which have provided me with the opportunity to be a solider in the State of Israel. It is these lives which have granted me the privilege to, as an Israeli solider from the State of Israel, represent all of those who have lived and are now gone".
From here, on the soil of Auschwitz, next to thousands of representatives of the Jewish Diaspora, we join the commemoration of the legacy of the millions who perished, calling to the nations of the world and their governments: "Learn the lesson of this most terrible horror, and let not its seeds sprout anew. Fight Anti-Semitism and racism of any kind wherever they are, and do all that is necessary to prevent the propagation of the violence in all its forms.
Sixty-three years have passed since the end of the most horrible war humankind has ever known. Sixty-three years after the atrocity. The Star of David is no longer a mark of disgrace, but a symbol and a sign of the resurrection of the Jewish people. As the commander of the Israel Defense Forces, the fighting force of the mighty Jewish State, I stand here with pride and honor and pledge: "Never Again!" Never again shall we stand helpless, crying for the mercy of others. Never again shall we beg to be defended. Never again shall we allow our sons and daughters, our parents and our grandparents to be erased from the face of the earth. Never again shall the frightened eyes of Jewish children look with ghastly dread through the barbed-wire fences of concentration camps. Never!
We who have had the privilege of seeing the establishment and the blossoming of the State of Israel; we, who have been entrusted with the country’s fate, know that if we had had our country then, in those somber days, the Holocaust of the Jewish people would not have taken place. We remember, and will never forget, that from the killing and the destruction, from the ashes and the despair, we have risen to establish not only the Jewish State, but the military force that will forever provide security for the Jewish people, protecting it from any future attempts of persecution, torture and destruction.
These days, after sixty years of independence, the existence of an independent Jewish state is not a fact that should be taken for granted. Even today, in our region of the world, voices are heard calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Even today, we have to continue the struggle for our right to maintain a national home and safe haven for the Jewish people in their land. We have learned our lesson. We take threats of leaders calling for the destruction of Israel very seriously.
From this sense of deep responsibility for our continued existence as a people in our land and for the continuity of our heritage, we have no choice but to continue the struggle. Since we are fighting for our very existence, we cannot afford to grow weary or be deterred in our struggle.
In the words of Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in his last letter on May 8th, 1943, sixty-five years ago this week: "It is impossible to put into words what we have been through. One thing is clear, what happened exceeded our boldest dreams. The Germans ran twice from the ghetto. One of our companies held out for 40 minutes, and another for more than six hours. The mine set in the ‘brushmakers’ area exploded… Self-defense in the ghetto will be a reality…I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle".
Two days ago, I laid a wreath and saluted at the doorstep of the bunker where he commanded the uprising at Mila 18 in Warsaw.
Now, I would like to dedicate some words to our colleagues from around the world who stand here with us:
I stand here today, in this heartbreaking spot, as the commander of the army of the Jewish Nation. In the name of the Israel Defense Forces I salute the six million Jews who were annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators. I vow to uphold the responsibility of the Israel Defense Forces – never again to allow Jewish blood to be spilled in vain. May the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust be forever blessed and remembered.
A people which does not know or honor its past, shrouds its future in uncertainty. Therefore, it is crucial that new generations of IDF soldiers and officers make this sacred march in honor and remembrance of our persecuted ancestors.
Standing here, on this cursed land that has witnessed the most terrible of horrors in human history, I call upon all nations’ leaders to remove human hatred from the face of the earth; to act determinedly to erase anti-Semitism around the world, preventing it from ever gaining force. Above all, each and every one of us must do their utmost to ensure that never again will we walk alone.
Here on this cursed ground, from which still cry the voices of our slain brothers, and as commander of the Israel Defense Forces of the state of the Jewish people, I salute our six million brothers and sisters, who have been persecuted, deported, tortured and cruelly murdered, and swear that "Jewish blood shall never again be spilled in vain!"
Blessed be the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust!