at Yad Vashem
on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day
Jerusalem, April 18, 2001
"The Holocaust Heroism Legacy"
Chairman of the Knesset,
President of the Supreme Court of Justice,
Sixty years have passed since the greatest "eclipse" in the history of the Jewish people – sixty years since that turning point when the lights went out in Europe and the Nazi persecution of the Jews was transformed into a massive extermination program – the "Final Solution" for the Jewish problem.
Each year on this day we return to the death marches and remember the horrors of the Nazi extermination machine. But when we return to the horror of life in the shadow of the Holocaust, it is important to remember that very survival, in and by itself, under these conditions represented supreme heroism.
I believe that we have forever inculcated the horror of the Holocaust, so that we will never forget. We were less successful in inculcating the Jewish heroism during the Holocaust. Understanding the Holocaust is essential so it will become part of our nation’s memory. Understanding Jewish heroism and courage during the Holocaust is important for our future, in order to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy.
The year 1941 was the turning point, when the persecution of Jews was transformed into the sinister annihilation plan, but it also marked a turning point in Jewish bravery in the war against Nazi Germany. Close to 1,500,000 million Jewish soldiers enlisted in the Allied Forces and the Soviet Army during World War II, on all fronts.
The number of Jews in the military forces was disproportionate in relation to the general Jewish population, and consequently, also the number of Jewish fallen and wounded soldiers. Approximately 230,000 Jewish soldiers fell during World War II. The 500,000 Jews living in Israel at the time sent 27,000 Jewish soldiers (including 3,150 women) to enlist in the British Army to fight Nazi Germany.
The walls of silence and the indifference of the Allied Forces in light of information regarding the Final Solution; their failure to take action against the death camps and the railroad tracks leading to them; and heavy restrictions on the transfer of Jews to safe havens – all these created almost impossible conditions for the Jews to save and defend themselves. Although there was almost no shred of hope, Jews rebelled in the ghettos, the forests and the death camps, chanting: "Don’t say this is our final road," demonstrating valor and self-sacrifice. They knew it was their final road but they still defended themselves and fought. This is the essence of true heroism.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising occurred exactly 58 years ago today, on April 19th. The uprising became a symbol and a legacy for the Jewish people’s bravery in face of the Nazi beast.
In referring to the 1939 White Paper’s limitations on the immigration of Jews to Israel, David Ben-Gurion eloquently expressed the primary lesson derived from the Jewish people’s desperate heroic stand during the Holocaust: "The homeland is not like exile. Here we do not stand helpless and powerless. It is the only corner in the world where Jews stand and fight. They will fight for their land and their nation’s dignity."
Just as the Holocaust became an integral part of our identity and collective past as a nation, the legacy of Jewish bravery in facing the Nazi extermination mechanism is the very foundation of our unique existence and our future in the State of Israel. Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and capability to defend themselves, by themselves. Only through strict adherence to this principle will we know that the courage and sacrifice of our Holocaust heroes was not in vain, and will ensure the Jewish people’s independent existence in our homeland. Only then will we achieve the peace which we so desire.
||Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority|