FM Shalom: We have come together to honor a great person, and through that, to honor the values and ideals for which he stood, and to reaffirm our commitment to them.
A memorial ceremony commemorating the life and work of Simon Wiesenthal was held under the auspices of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom today (Wednesday, 9 November) at the ministry in Jerusalem.
The assembly honored Wiesenthal, a survivor of Nazi death camps who as founder and head of the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down more than 1,000 Nazi criminals. He died in Vienna on September 20, 2005 and was buried in Herzliya.
The ceremony was attended by cabinet ministers, Knesset members, heads of diplomatic delegations, heads of the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority (Yad Vashem), Holocaust survivors organizations, members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, ministry officials, and members of the Wiesenthal family.
The main address was given by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (see below), who called for a reaffirmation of Wiesenthal’s commitment to justice. Minister Shalom also noted that he had earlier in the day presented Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev with the original copy of the recently passed United Nations resolution establishing a World Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Deputy Minister Michael Melchior declared that following Wiesenthal’s path would lead to a better world. United States Ambassador Richard Jones noted that Wiesenthal had inspired a new generation of both Jews and gentiles to vow "never again." Wiesenthal’s granddaughter, Rachel, spoke of his determination to seek justice, not revenge, and to disseminate his message in books and lectures.
Address by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom
Members of the Wiesenthal Family,
Minister of the Interior, Ophir Pines,
Minister of Housing, Yitzhak Herzog
Deputy Minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior
Members of the Knesset,
Ambassadors and Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Larry Mizel, Chairman of the Board of the Wiesenthal Center,
Members of the Board of Yad Vashem,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are moments in life, when one must stop, to honor a value or an ideal, and by doing so, to reaffirm our dedication to its fulfillment. We are all gathered here today, in order to do just that.
We have come together to honor a great person, and through that, to honor the values and ideals for which he stood, and to reaffirm our commitment to them.
Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to the values of justice and of remembrance. A man who stood for exacting justice for the evils of the past, as the means of building of a new and better future. A man who symbolized the great spiritual strength of our humanity, and our ability to rise from the ashes, and challenge the forces of immorality.
In his generation he was what we needed – as individuals who suffered the persecution of the Holocaust, as a nation in the process of rebirth, and as a global community in need of moral direction. And we will need more like him in the future.
I wish to welcome here today members of Simon Wiesenthal’s family, including his daughter Paulinka and her husband, and his grandchildren Racheli, Danny and Yuri, and their spouses. You honor us today with your presence.
I was in New York for the annual General Assembly of the United Nations when your beloved father and grandfather passed away. When news came of his passing, I did not hesitate to include him in my address to the Assembly, and I resolved then that upon my return to Israel I would initiate this memorial event.
For me, growing up here in Israel, Simon Wiesenthal was like a hero, someone larger than life. Someone who stood up for our people – particularly those who could no longer do so for themselves – the victims of the Holocaust.
I know the loss that I feel, and that the whole people of Israel feel, at his passing. But I am sure that I cannot begin to know the sense of loss that you – his closest family – must feel with the passing of such a giant among men.
May you be comforted in the knowledge that Simon Wiesenthal will always be remembered and admired as the great champion of Israel and the champion of good, that he was.
In the Bible, in Parashat Shoftim, we are told:
צדק צדק תרדוף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ.
“Justice, justice you shall pursue, so that you may live and inherit the land.”
The Bible connects justice with the right to live, and our moral right to our land. Justice is not vengeance, nor is it a luxury. Justice is the moral obligation of a community, to ensure that law and order prevail over persecution, corruption and murder. Justice is the safeguard for the future existence of civilization. It is a precondition of the worthiness to rule and to be counted in the family of nations.
History, of course, cannot be reversed. Nothing can be done to bring back the millions who perished in the Holocaust. But, as a society and as a global community, there was – and is – much to be done, to ensure that their memory is perpetuated, and that the moral lessons of their destruction, are learned and applied. We must do everything in our power to ensure that this ultimate evil is never again repeated.
I take this mission most seriously. Standing here proudly in modern Israel – the state which came into being ten years too late to prevent the Holocaust – it is our historic obligation to the victims, to the survivors and to our future as a people – to do everything possible to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved, and its lessons learned.
This is why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under my leadership, has focused intense efforts over the past year to bring the United Nations – an organization, like Israel, which was established as part of the lessons of the Holocaust – to address the Holocaust, and grant it the attention it deserves. Not as an historical event, but as a warning and a call, to all humanity.
In January, we initiated a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the death camps – a session supported by over 150 nations. For the first time in history, the nations of the world convened in New York to pay tribute to the victims and the liberators, and to reaffirm humanity’s obligation never to allow such a calamity to happen again.
And now, just last week, after a diplomatic campaign which reached every capital around the globe, a UN resolution initiated by Israel was passed by consensus in the General Assembly, establishing a global Holocaust Remembrance Day and calling on all nations and the UN itself, to engage in educational and public activities to ensure that the lessons of this darkest chapter are taught everywhere – now and in the generations to come, when the survivors will no longer be with us to tell of what happened.
These events reflect important progress in Israel’s international standing. But more importantly they reflect a growing international awareness of the importance of Holocaust remembrance.
Nor will we stop there. Israel will continue the battle to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial in every place.
We learned from Simon Wiesenthal that we must remain determined to the end, to fulfill our historic obligation, to stand up for what is right, and always work to put right what is wrong. We must use every resource that we can to preserve the value of justice for all peoples, so that we all may be free of the tyranny that threatens, in almost every place.
Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On the ninth of November, 1938, Heinrich Mueller issued the order allowing the burning of synagogues. In one night, Jewish places of worship, Jewish books, and Jewish culture, went up in flames across Germany.
In the context of the Holocaust itself, some might see Kristallnacht as minor and unimportant. Nothing, my friends, could be further from the truth. The wholesale Nazi murder of millions of Jews and others did not begin with tanks or death squads or concentration camps. It began with hatred and incitement, with rallies and speeches, which few outside of Germany took seriously. It began with words.
There is a direct link between Kristallnacht and the gas chambers. Those that spread hatred in words, will eventually spread hatred in actions. Those who burn human culture, will burn human flesh. This is a lesson that we must always remember. Particularly today, when anti-Semitism is once again rearing its head.
In the heart of Europe and elsewhere, we are once again seeing attacks against Jewish youth and the desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.Once again, though, we are concerned that not enough people are taking these phenomena seriously.
Just in the past 30 days, more than 34 four anti-Semitic acts have been documented, including: eggs tossed at Jews in Melbourne; acts of vandalism against a kosher restaurant and the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in St. Petersburg; desecration of Jewish graves in Latvia; anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in the streets of Santiago; the convening of a neo-Nazi concert in the Czech Republic; an attack on a Jewish youth in Ukraine; and the list goes on.
Together with these worrying trends is the ongoing demonizing of Israel and incitement against it, on the part of religious and political leaders in many quarters. The modern-day anti-Semites, knowing that direct attacks on Jews are "politically incorrect" in western society, turn their hatred against the Jewish state instead. If it is not our rights as individuals that they feel safe to attack, then it is our rights as a nation like all others.
The most extreme example of this came just two weeks ago, when Iran’s president called for Israel to be “wiped off the map of the world.” This horrific statement has been condemned across the world, as it should be. This is not political criticism, this is verbal terror at its worst and most dangerous.
Particularly at a time when Iran’s extreme regime is pursuing nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to take such comments lightly. Israel is supporting the efforts of the United States and the countries of Europe and others to ensure that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are denied. These efforts are imperative – not only for our survival, but also for global peace and security.
But the Iranian president’s comments are of profound concern, even aside from the nuclear issue. This is because they reflect – and promote – an atmosphere of hostility towards Israel which is encouraging thousands, if not millions, of Muslims to follow the path of hatred and rejection – the consequences of which are only too familiar to us all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we mark the life of one of the great heroes of Israel and our people’s right to justice – and as the words of Iran’s president still ring in our ears – it is important to reiterate: There is no conflict between Islam and Judaism, and there is no reason for conflict between the Arab and Muslim world and the State of Israel.
But there is a conflict between extremists and moderates:
• between those who believe in violence and hatred, and those who believe in tolerance and the sanctity of every life;
• between those who breed intolerance and anti-Semitism, and those who seek co-existence and understanding;
• between those who believe in terror and the destruction of innocent life, and those who champion democracy and human values.
The international community must be united in this battle. We must act with conviction, so that hateful words do not become violent actions, so that waves of violence are stopped before they become major catastrophes.
We must ensure that organizations and leaders who spread hatred are denied the ability to endanger our individual and collective security. We must speak with one voice.
This is the historic imperative of our generation: to preserve the memory of the past, and to ensure that its injustices are never repeated, neither against Jews nor against any other people.
This is also the legacy of Simon Wiesenthal: of his determination that justice must be done – and evil challenged – for the sake of the past and for the sake of the future.
יהי זכרו ברוך.