Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin and His Wife,
President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinish,
Ministers, Members of Knesset,
Honorable Chief Rabbis and Congregation Leaders,
Chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau,
Chairman of the Board of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev,
Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine and His Wife,
Esteemed Holocaust Survivors from Israel and Abroad,
Before the recent Pesach holiday, a Jewish hero passed away – David Plonsky, also known as "Yurek", may his memory be blessed – the cigarette salesman from the Triple Cross Square in Warsaw.
Yurek was only 14 when the Warsaw Ghetto was established. He turned overnight from a child into an adult. He smuggled food into the ghetto and his life was under constant threat. Yurek survived. He immigrated to Israel, fought in the War of Independence, started a family and built a home at Kibbutz Meggido. He lost his son Eitan during the Yom Kippur War, but somehow found the strength to overcome this tragedy as well. He continued living, building and telling his story to thousands of youngsters.
To a large extent, his life story and activities personify the Jewish people’s transition from exile to liberty – a story of suffering, heroism, rebuilding and renaissance; a story of bereavement, faith and independence.
Yurek may have survived the inferno, but close to 1.5 million Jewish children perished in the Holocaust. The human mind cannot grasp this fact. We picture the famous photo of the frightened Jewish boy, raising his hands as German rifles are pointed at him. But this child was only one of 1.5 million children, 1.5 million pairs of frightened eyes – each one of them an entire world of hopes and dreams, each one the recipient of a mother’s love and a father’s concern, a world transformed instantly into one of terror, suffering and death.
Some of them survived for months and years, hiding in pits and forests, freezing in the snow or starving to death. Children of ten or twelve years-old, escaping like persecuted wild animals from the Nazis who were hunting them down. Some of these children, separated from their parents, torn by their longings, found shelter in churches and convents. Sometimes they found shelter in the homes of the best of humanity, non-Jews, Righteous Gentiles, who risked not only their lives, but also the lives of their families to rescue them from death.
In a reversal of roles, some of the children, like Yurek, found themselves defending their parents. Children of eight or nine years-old who risked their lives to smuggle food into the starved ghetto, to bring a piece of bread to their mother or father. They were little heroes, awarded no medals. The majority of them left behind neither a name nor a trace. The Nazi beast devoured them and their parents, and there is no one to tell the tale of their courage.
However, even in the hour of our people’s greatest despair, in the final moments of the Warsaw Ghetto, Jewish youngsters from all streams fought an unparalleled heroic struggle against the Nazi oppressor. By doing so, they marked the great transformation that would occur in the fate of our people several years later with the establishment of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.
"In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand". He saves us through the living spirit in our people and its representatives – judges, prophets, kings, Maccabees.
However, in the case of the Holocaust, the rescue came late, too late for six million of our people, and a new flame was rekindled among those who survived only with the establishment of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel.
Anti-Semitism is an age-old historic phenomenon. However, if anyone thought that after the horrors of the Holocaust, this malignant phenomenon would vanish from the world, today it is clear that they were sadly mistaken. Along with human progress and enlightenment, a dark wind of hatred again blows against our people and State.
In our generation, only a few decades after the Holocaust, new forces have arisen that brazenly declare their intention to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth. And the response of the civilized world? Instead of a firm denunciation – at best, we hear a faint protest.
The unfortunate fact is that while we are marking the events of the Holocaust here at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, there are those who chose to participate in a festival of anti-Israel hatred at this very hour in the heart of Europe.
From here I turn to you, President of Switzerland, and I ask you: how can you, as a head of an enlightened state, meet with those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another one?
In contrast, we express our appreciation to those important countries which chose to boycott this spectacle – including the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Holland, Poland, Australia and New Zealand, as well as representatives who left the hall during the hateful words of the Iranian president.
We must awaken the world’s conscience, we must form alliances and make connections, but above all, we must remember that our ability to repel the threats to our people’s existence stems from the strength of our State, from our unity and our cohesion in trying times.
We will not allow Holocaust deniers to perpetrate another Holocaust against the Jewish people. This is the supreme commitment of the State of Israel, and it is my supreme commitment as Prime Minister of Israel.
The State of Israel is the shield; it is the comfort and hope of the Jewish people. It is where we gather our exiles, where we build new cities in the land of our forefathers, where our creativity serves our people and all mankind.
Israel’s achievements in all fields – culture, technology, science, agriculture, medicine and security – are groundbreaking. Our people are small in number, but of great vigor.
Six years ago, Yurek, may his memory be blessed, lit one of the torches here at Yad Vashem. This evening, six Holocaust survivors will light memorial torches. Each one of them has a powerful personal story and has made an important contribution to the building of the people and the state.
The Government of Israel has a deep commitment to you, Holocaust survivors. In the past, the state did not always meet your special needs. Over the last several years things have changed. Today, I promise you that we will continue to properly address your needs. You are clear evidence of the transcendence of the Jewish spirit, this spirit which gave us the power to rise up from the valley of death, return to our homeland and build our lives here.
In the words of Prophet Zachariah: "Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions: My cities will once again spread out with bounty; Hashem will have mercy on Zion once again and He will choose Jerusalem once more".