Address by President Moshe Katsav at the Opening Ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2003

Yad Vashem – Jerusalem, 28 April 2003

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Speaker of the Knesset Ruby Rivlin MK, the Chief Rabbis, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, dear survivors,

Sixty years ago, on Seder night, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto read the Haggadah to the sounds of gunfire, explosions, windows shattering, houses burning and people crying. On Passover eve, Jewish fighters – the last prisoners of the Warsaw ghetto who remained – rose up and fought against the Nazis. The revolt continued for about a month. It was the first uprising against the Nazi regime in occupied Europe. There were about 1000 fighters, comprising members of the underground organizations – the Jewish Fighting Organization led by Mordechai Anielewicz, and the Jewish Military Union led by Pawel Frenkel, and all the different movements, ranging from Hashomer Hatzair to the Revisionist movement, and from members of Akiva to the Bundists. They were joined by the rest of the Jews living in the ghetto, and it was this handful of people from the tormented remnants of a glorious Jewish community, these pure, daring individuals with almost no resources, who fought against the forces of evil, the mighty barbarians who possessed an overwhelming military advantage.

From the outset, it was clear to the fighters that they could not defeat the Nazis in battle – the uprising broke out while the Nazi killing machine was working at full strength. More than anything else, the rebellion symbolizes the daring and the determination of a few individuals, for the sake of freedom and justice. Neither Britain, nor the US or Russia assisted the fighters. They were isolated and alone, but even so, it became obvious to the German army and to the brutal Nazi soldiers that this uprising was real and effective.

Four days after the uprising broke out, Mordechai Anielewicz wrote the following to Antek Zuckerman:

"… Things have surpassed our boldest dreams. The Germans ran away from the ghetto twiceIt is impossible to describe the conditions in which the Jews are living. Only a few individuals will hold out. All the rest will be killed sooner or later. The die is cast.Be well my friend. Perhaps we shall meet again. The main thing is that the dream of my life has come true. I’ve lived to see Jewish defense in the ghetto in all its greatness and glory."

Anielewicz fell a few days later, and the Warsaw ghetto lay in ruins, but the stand taken by the Jews in Warsaw became the symbol of their struggle, a national symbol.

Throughout the Holocaust period Jews preserved their human dignity and struggled to maintain both their physical and spiritual existence. The Warsaw ghetto historian Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum wrote the following words in his ghetto archive:

"… We doubt that we will have the opportunity to see you again… The motto of Jewish Communal Leadership was ‘To Live with Honor and to Die with Honor’… You should know that the last surviving activists were loyal to our culture up to the very last moment. They kept aloft the banner of culture and struggle against barbarism to their last breath… Give our warm greetings to all those involved in Jewish culture… all builders of present-day Jewish culture and fighters for national and human liberation."

There were manifestations of Jewish resistance all over Europe: fighting in the forests, escape and rescue operations, smuggling, underground activity and attempts at rebellion inside the death camps. The physical resistance demanded resources and tremendous courage: it was clear to those who resisted that in the end they would sacrifice their lives, but that their resistance and struggle was of national and human significance both for their time and for future generations.

The many attempts to escape, whether from the cattle cars, from hiding places or from camps, were an expression of courage and determination. When a Jew escaped, he was like a pursued animal, with hunters closing in from all sides. The enemy was everywhere – the local populations collaborated and assisted the Nazis in their pursuit of the Jews. There were also a few who saved Jews – the "Righteous Among the Nations", and to them we are forever grateful, both personally, and in the name of the history of mankind.

The German machine did its utmost to totally annihilate the Jewish people, to carry out the plan known by the chilling name "The Final Solution". The most savage, primitive act in the history of humanity was carried out by a country then regarded as one of the most advanced in the modern world.

Terrible darkness and cruel death descended on the Jews of Europe, on the Jewish people, and on humanity as a whole. The world knew about the annihilation of the Jews of Europe, and the world turned its back. That shame should accompany mankind forever, just as the memory of the Holocaust will accompany the Jewish people forever.

We Jews know that every form of resistance requires immense courage, and that every Holocaust survivor carries with him a unique life story interwoven with daring, valor and suffering.

Today we grieve over the deaths of six million of the Jewish people. We mourn the tragic and total demise of a Jewish way of life that has been irrevocably lost. The memory of the events of the Holocaust is a significant element in the identity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The Holocaust has cast a dark shadow on mankind, and the world has a duty to ensure that history does not repeat itself. The collapse of Nazism did not bring about an end to racism. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, racism, incitement and antisemitism are alive and kicking.

We continue to bear the horrors of the Holocaust. The wound still bleeds, despite the fact that we have built a sovereign Jewish state that is modern, developed and democratic. We raise our children as part of the family of nations.

The people of Israel lives, breathes and thrives in its homeland, the State of Israel.