(Translated from Hebrew)
My colleague, Chief of the General Staff of Germany, General Wolfgang Schneidrhan,
Representatives of the Jewish community and respected colleagues:
Here I stand on platform 17 in the Begrenwald train station; a place that served as another cog in the Nazi annihilation machine, one from which fifty five thousand Berlin Jews, whose only crime was their religion, were sent to their deaths. I stand here today to commit and promise: "never again".
I, Gabi Ashkenazi, the son of Josef Ashkenazi, may he rest in peace, a Holocaust survivor from Bulgaria, am here today as the commander of the Jewish defense force – The Israel Defense Forces, and proudly carry the flag of the State of Israel – the state of the Jewish nation.
The wails of our Jewish brethren, who were marched onto train cars, humiliated, beaten and killed, rise from the silent steel plates that rest on this platform. At this moment, and forever more, their echoing cry is the injunction of Israel’s obligation, and mine, as the current head of her army; our obligation to always remember and never forget the worst atrocities in the history of mankind, our obligation to never take the threats of those who would harm us lightly, our obligation to ensure our security ourselves, and never let anyone else control the future of Israel.
The victory over Nazi Germany and the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, symbolizes the perseverance of the spirit of man, justice and hope.
Despite this victory, we cannot lie complacent. Even today, 64 years since the last train packed with Jews headed to extermination camps left this station, 61 years since the establishment of the Jewish homeland, anti-Semitism has not disappeared from the world. Anti-Semitism may present in different guises, it ‘face’ may change, its language, its strategy, its justifications, but the objective remains unchanged. Even today, leaders of states publicly declare their desire to destroy the State of Israel – they reject the sovereign and national right of the Jewish nation to exist.
Our legitimate struggle against the terrorist organizations that disrupt the daily routine of our citizens has been used as an excuse by anti-Semitic advocates, Holocaust deniers and other hostile sources. Their attacks give legitimacy to the atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel.
From this place, from which our brothers and sisters were led to the ovens and gas chambers, for the "crime" of their religion, we say to all our foes, the deniers, the evildoers: We are here. The nation of Israel has risen and has been revived in its land and the nation stands by its independence and its security. The Israel Defense Forces, the shield of the Jewish nation is not an army that advocates war – rather it is an army of defense. We do not look for battle, but nonetheless, if war is forced upon us we will do everything necessary to enable the citizens of Israel to live in their homes securely.
No one should test our strength or resolve. Through every hardship, we will stand strong and united, determined not only to exist, but also to preserve our identity and the values which have unified our nation since its inception. The same values which defined our stubborn fight for survival during the Holocaust, the same values which comprise a key stone in our current struggle for existence as a nation.
A few hours ago, I stood at the side of my colleague, General Shneidrhan, in the Wannzee Committee house, the place where leaders of the Nazi Party discussed the final solution – the plan for the annihilation of the Jewish people. The villa house on the bank of Wannzee lake is a testimonial edifice to how devoid of humanity and morals man can become when motivated by hatred and racism.
There is deep historical and symbolic significance in the joint visit by the Israeli and German Chiefs of Staff to the place where such an unimaginable decision was made. The visit also expresses the strong and fruitful relationship between the German Army and the Israeli Defense Force. Our relationship contributes to both armies operational capabilities, on mutual commitment, and a firm belief that the two sides have a right to live in peace in their countries. This relationship embodies the totality of the victory over Hitler’s Nazi regime – today’s Germany is a significant democratic power who is solidly committed to the existence and security of the state of Israel.
And now I wish to say a number of things in English:
I, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, the son of Josef Ashkenazi – a Holocaust survivor from Bulgaria, proudly march here today as the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces, and salute our brothers and sisters who were burned and tortured by the Nazis and their collaborators, all those who found themselves deported, cast-out and hunted – their only crime – being Jewish, all those who believed in the human spirit, and in the values of morality and justice. In the name of all the Jewish nation, I’m committed to do our utmost in order to prevent Jewish blood from being spilled once again. We will continue to build our democratic state – and continue to advocate peace and freedom.
I would like to thank General Schneiderhan for being here with me today. The very fact that the German Chief of the General Staff and the Israeli Chief of staff are standing here together, shoulder to shoulder, sixty four years after the Second World War, and the warm cooperation our militaries share, demonstrate our steadfast determination that never again will such atrocities occur. May those who perished in the Holocaust be remembered forever and rest in eternal peace.
As the commander of the Israel Defense Forces which draws its meaning and spirit from the heritage of the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust and did not live to see the establishment of the Jewish state, in th name of our brothers and sisters who were taken from here to their death, in the name of every IDF soldier and commander and in the name of the entire nation of Israel, today I salute the memory of our brothers and sisters and promise that the torch of their bravery will continue to light our way to fulfilling the ancient vision of the people of Israel: "To be free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem". It is our historic duty and a warrant of conscience for the state of Israel until its last generation. May the memory of our people who perished in the holocaust be blessed.
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General Wolfgang Scheniderhan, commander of the German Bundeswehr also spoke during the ceremony: "The ties between our two countries and specifically between the German military and the IDF rose out of the unique history and expresses the German understanding and commitment of the challenge we face. The fact that the IDF Chief of the General Staff and the German Chief of the General Staff are standing here together, shoulder to shoulder, is a testimony to that. The responsibility for the holocaust is part of today’s German identity."
During his visit to the Villa Wannsee with his German counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi wrote in the site’s guest book, "In these beautiful halls, a cruel and hateful history was written. In this very place, in January 1942, the decision was made to implement the ‘Final Solution’, the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. I stand here as the commander of the Israel Defense Forces, a large, strong, technologically advanced army. The IDF is the defensive force of the Jewish nation, which has withstood many hardships and yet prevailed. I am deeply moved to be the representative of the six million innocent Jews that were murdered burned and buried alive. I am proud to be here and bear witness to the rebirth of the Jewish people in our homeland, to our state and to our strong nation, which continues to grow and strengthen."
The Chief of the General Staff also wrote, "The calls for the destruction of the State of Israel by terror organizations, authoritarian regimes, and other anti-Semitic voices, continue even in this day and age. The moral imperative for the world to take a stand and act against this hatred is clear as is the need for a strong IDF. We must all act together to ensure we can promise, "Never Again". We will never let another Holocaust occur, we will defend ourselves and we will be prepared for every challenge, we will deal with every enemy and adversary who wishes us harm.
This is what we have sworn – to remember and never to forget."