Dozens of Knesset members and Holocaust survivors, as well as more than 50 North American and European politicians and over 50 members of the Polish parliament took part on Monday in a joint Israeli-Polish ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The delegation was the biggest ever from the Knesset to come to the camp in southern Poland where the Nazis killed some 1.5 million people between 1940 and 1945, most of them Jews.
Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog, who is heading the Israeli delegation along with Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin, said during the ceremony, ”I closed my eyes and saw you, Anette, my 20-year-old aunt, as you were caught while trying to flee the Nazis during the occupation of France and was led to this place over the course of long and grueling days in a special car that is designated for beasts. An unimaginable nightmare. And with you there were thousands. Here, in the cursed furnace, you met your death. Your mother Esther received a note that you smuggled out of the train saying you would return. I closed my eyes for a moment and I marched with you, fathers and sons, daughters and mothers.”
”After the angel of death was banished from these death camps, which were built and run by the German Nazi murderers and their assistants from different nations – we came from the land of life to the sea of death, to evil, to the lowest place in the world,” Herzog continued to say. ”We came here to breathe this contaminated air; to taste from the poisonous cup; to feel the pain. We do not stand here as individuals, Jewish mother, but as representatives of a nation that is on a deep and grueling journey of memory; a journey to the great depths of evil and to the foundations of Jewish and human existence.”
In his speech, Herzog said the Jewish people must never forget the Holocaust and always rely on their own strength, adding ”We, who are marching on this land that is soaked with the blood of our brothers, must promise our children that a different future is imaginable; that we can build a world with hope; a world that is not frightened; that we can build a world in which a Jew will be safe, whether he lives in Sderot or Los Angeles, in Tel Aviv or Paris.”
”If we lose the hope of building a different world, we will be surrendering to the spirit of Auschwitz,” he said. Herzog also called on the international community to fight anti-Semitism and act with resolve against those who commit crimes against humanity.
Russia`s ambassador to Poland, who also took part in the ceremony, said the Red Army was aware of the atrocities taking place in Auschwitz. He described the liberation of the death camp by Soviet troops in January 1945.
Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger, 87, also spoke. ”Today, 69 years after we left this hell called Auschwitz, we are here again as proud people, as proud citizens of the new Jewish state that rose out of the ruins of European Jewry; a strong, democratic, liberal and developed country. We are proud to be here today and thank the Knesset for making this journey possible,” he said.
Later on Monday, the Knesset delegation members were due to visit the city of Krakow, where they will join Polish parliamentarians in a joint session dedicated to remembering the Holocaust.