Yad Vashem – Jerusalem, 28 April 2003
Fifty-eight years ago, the guns in Europe fell silent. The Nazi monster had been defeated, and the world was saved from the dark regime of racism – the cruelest in the history of mankind. But a vital, glorious part of the Jewish people had been mercilessly uprooted and lay buried in the smoking mountains of ashes and destruction.
This year, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day marks sixty years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the uprising that became the symbol of Jewish resistance in the ghettos, forests, partisan brigades, and of the courage shown by the one and a half million Jews who fought in the Red Army, the US Army, the armies of the British Empire and the other brigades that rose up to defend human culture and freedom from oppression and destruction.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has been forever enshrined as a shining beacon, as the torch of heroism, which was lit in the face of hell by Jewish youngsters headed by members of all the Zionist youth movements.
Jewish heroism, however, found expression through many other sublime channels:
The heroism of the Jewish mother hugging her children close in their final hour, the heroism of the father who risked his life to find a lone piece of bread for his son, the heroism of those who helped their fellows in conditions of hard labor and freezing temperatures, the heroism of those who comforted a dying friend, the heroism of those who conquered despair in the death camps, the heroism of those who preserved Jewish tradition and held a Passover seder while hiding in the ruins of the ghetto.
The Jewish people emerged from the abyss of the Shoah mortally wounded but still breathing, and having learned its lesson. Never again will Jews be defenseless and homeless. Never again shall we put our safety in the hands of strangers, shall we rely on the goodwill of others, shall we allow ourselves to be deceived by illusions, shall we take lightly the scheming of those who conspire against us.
We shall be strong, determined and firm in protecting our people and in crushing any attempt to harm Jews, wherever they may be. We desire peace with all our heart, but we have learned this: We will not achieve security or peace through weakness or faint-heartedness, but only through daring, valor and readiness to guard what is precious to us and essential to our future.
The last year has seen a marked increase in the severity of antisemitic incidents around the world and in the extent of antisemitic propaganda, often thinly disguised as anti-Israel propaganda. Israel’s legitimate struggle against murderous Palestinian terror has provided the pretext for wild, violent antisemitic attacks in many places around the world. In addition, loathsome manifestations of Holocaust denial have continued this year too. World Jewry and freedom-lovers everywhere must fight uncompromisingly against these phenomena wherever they appear.
This wave of evil has sharpened our awareness that the State of Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and the strength to ensure their own protection. That is our response to antisemitism and racism, and that is our guarantee that the victims of the Holocaust will not be forgotten, and that Holocaust deniers will have no place in our midst.
The poet and fighter Haim Gouri expressed it well:
From the fire, which cut through your scorched and tortures bodies,
Flames come forth – a torch to shine on our souls,
And with it we kindle the blaze of our freedom,
And head out to war for our land.
Your pain, which has no kin among suffering,
We cast into stonecutters’ iron, and sharp-toothed plows;
Your insult we turned into rifles;
Your eyes to a lighthouse for ships drawing near in the night –
We sought vengeance for your death which was lonely and bitter,
We sought vengeance with our fist, which was heavy and warm;
For the burned-out ghetto we build this memorial,
A memorial-to-life, that will live on and on.