Excerpt from address by President Shimon Peres
"We were alone, without a country of our own. The allied bombers that flew over Auschwitz did not drop even a single bomb on the mass murdering facilities.
The Shoah finally established that there is no substitute for a homeland of our own. There is no replacement for the Israel Defense Forces. Today we have established our own homeland. Today we have an excellent army that has gained the respect of the world. We have a democratic regime that can protect as necessary and pursue peace as needed. This is the answer to an enemy, every enemy.
Even today, after the Shoah, there is a regime in the world, whose leadership are Holocaust deniers and inciters. This should shock every person and conscience. The fanatical leadership of Iran is a threat to the entire world – not just a threat to Israel. It threatens every home and every place. It is a real danger to humanity.
The nations of the world declared that they will not accept a nuclear Iran. Now they must stand the test of their undertaking.
We, the Jewish people, were victims of racism, persecution and discrimination, but we never neglected the commandment to respect every person. Because every person, according to our tradition, is created in the image of God. Even in a darkened world we aspired, and will aspire to be a light unto the nations.
This is the significance of the State of Israel: To physically defend our people, and morally defend our tradition. Every citizen of Israel, regardless of religion or race knows that Israel is, and will be the most anti-racist country in the world.
Israel is the historical commemoration to the victims of the Holocaust."
Address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
[translated from Hebrew]
Today, former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Moshe Landau, passed away. He was one of the judges in the Eichmann trial. I remember that momentous event 50 years ago. I remember the chilling words spoken by the prosecutor Gideon Hausner. I remember the story about Miki Goldman, who as a child in the Holocaust received 80 lashes. He then became a police officer and stood by Eichmann. He called it the 81st lash. I remember that the trial left such a deep impression on me as a child, as it did on all the children in Israel, and it exposed us with such intensity, to the horrors of the Holocaust and, no less, to the stories of the survivors.
Sadly, the number of Holocaust survivors living among us diminishes from year to year, but at the same time, our regard for their heroism during the Holocaust and their contribution to the revival of the Jewish people increases, as does our desire to hear their stories. The memory of the Holocaust is a patchwork of thousands of stories, personal, almost trivial stories that blend into a great account that is horrifying, but also splendid. Sometimes it is a small object that contains the memory of an entire Jewish family, perished.
Eva Modval was a three-year-old girl in 1939, when her beloved parents bought her a doll for her birthday. She named her doll Gerta, after her nanny Gertrude. But during the next five years, Eva’s life was filled with dread and horror as she escaped from town to town and from village to village like an animal hunted down. How did such a young child overcome such turmoil and terror? It was her doll that protected her spirit, and she safeguarded the doll. Eva’s father, the head of her family, was captured and murdered. Eva and her mother were also caught, but they survived, and after the war they came to live in Israel.
Years later, Eva married and raised a family in Israel, but even as a mother and later on as a grandmother, she kept her little doll, the same doll she carried with her throughout all the hardships of the Holocaust and during the establishment of the State of Israel. Gerta – the Jewish doll.
For many years, Yad Vashem had been asking Eva for that doll. Eventually, with a heavy heart, Eva agreed to donate the doll to the museum, and this is what she wrote: "My dear doll, maybe you’ll be able to tell the people of today, and particularly the children, what you saw and were you were with me. You have now become an inseparable part of my people, which has risen from the fire and ashes like a phoenix."
Eva Modval Haimovitz died a year and a half ago. Her family is with us here this evening: her husband Yitzhak, their three children Michael, Danny and Iris, her daughter-in-laws and son-in-law and their nine grandchildren. Here you are, sitting with us today, proving that life can triumph death, that good defeated evil.
But we all know that the national and global lesson to be learned from this hellish occurrence cannot be summed up in these words. As a son of the Jewish people, as Prime Minister of Israel, I wish to add further lessons that we must take from the Holocaust to serve as a compass and map to guide us forward.
The first and most important lesson is that if someone threatens to annihilate us, we cannot ignore those threats. We must not bury our heads in the sand; we must not shake off the threat in scorn and disregard. Has the world learned this lesson? I doubt it. Have we learned this lesson? I believe we have. But we must admit that throughout our history, Israel did not excel in predicting the future. We often repressed the gloomy reality facing us.
On the eve of the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, their great leader, Don Isaac Abarbanel, said that the Jews in Spain were doing fine. Four-hundred years later, when our people had leaders who predicted the future, who sensed and expected the anti-Semitic tempest approaching, they were ridiculed and ignored. Theodore Herzl predicted the anti-Semitic conflagration. He said it threatened all European Jewry. That was why he established Zionism. He forewarned the Jews about the blazing anti-Semitism breaking out time and time again. But he was perceived as a madman, or a pessimist, and many of our people called him that. Similarly, in 1938 Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned the Warsaw Jews about the imminent catastrophe, but to no avail.
My many friends around the world, at least in the enlightened parts of it, regard the memory of the Holocaust with reverence. But their attitude is reminiscent of generals preparing themselves for the previous war. It appears that it is so much easier to talk about the lessons learned from the past, than to implement them into the present and the future. But we, the Jewish people, cannot ignore the lessons learned from the Holocaust as they apply to the present day. New oppressors deny the Holocaust as they call for our destruction. Iran and its pawns, Hizbullah and Hamas, call for the annihilation of the Jewish state and openly act to that end.
All civilized people in the world, all those who claim to have learned the lesson from the Holocaust, must unequivocally condemn those who call for the obliteration of the Jewish state. Iran is even arming itself with nuclear weapons to realize that goal, and until now the world has not stopped it. The threat to our existence, to our future, is not theoretical. It cannot be swept under the carpet; it cannot be reduced. It faces us and all humanity and it must be thwarted.
So the first lesson is to take those who threaten our existence seriously. The next lesson comes from the understanding that attacks on our people were always preceded by waves of hatred that prepared the ground for the onslaught. Therefore, the second lesson we must take from the Holocaust is that we need to expose the true face of the hatred against our people. What was not said about the Jews of Europe? In the Middle Ages and in modern times, Jews were repeatedly blamed for the ills of the world – from plague and pestilence, war and revolution to economic crises. The hatred was engrained not only among the ignorant multitude, but it spread and became deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of Europe’s leading scholars and philosophers.
That age-old hatred of Jews is awakening today, and is taking on the form of hatred of the Jewish state. Today too, there are those who blame the Jewish state for all the ills of the world – from increased oil prices to the instability in our region. There are those who say that if most of the world believes these claims, there must be a kernel of truth to them. Ahad Ha’am already said that the wide-spread acceptance of the blood libels in the Middle Ages proves that even when the majority of the world believes in something – that does not make it true.
And the third lesson is that we must control our own fate. Our relationships with the leading countries of the world, and with other countries in general are extremely important to us and we invest in them, nurture and develop them. But if we do not have the ability to protect ourselves, the world will not stand by our side.
Israel is a peace loving country; a democratic, cultured, thriving, developed country; a country that respects the human rights of every individual. It is an island of progress in a region where there is no progress. We hold out our hands in peace to any of our neighbors who want to live peacefully with us. But we will stand firm against those who wish to harm us. And today, on the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, I call out to our enemies and say that they should know one thing about the Jewish people: they are up against the formidable spirit of a people that has overcome the worst evil known to man. And let the world know, that when the people of Israel, and the IDF say "never again" – we mean it.
Yona (Janek) Fuchs