It was both his honor and duty as president to call on the government, the Knesset and the general population of Israel to ensure that Holocaust survivors and the partisans who fought to preserve Jewish continuity can live out their lives in dignity, Shimon Peres said Monday.
Peres made the comments at an event saluting members of the Association of Partisans, Underground and Ghetto Fighters.
The event – which was initially scheduled to be held at the President’s Residence – was so over-subscribed that it was eventually relocated to Beit Shmuel, a venue with symbolic value for the association’s members.
This year, Jerusalem Day – celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem – and VE Day – which marks the Allied victory over the Nazis – happen to coincide. The Beit Shmuel banquet hall faces the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control until 1967.
The partisans sitting inside the hall had fought not only for the continued existence of the Jewish people during the Holocaust; many of them came to Israel and fought against the British Mandate.
Many also fought in Israel’s wars, including the Six Day War, during which Jerusalem was reunified.
It is very important for the fighters’ stories to be made known, Baruch Shuv, the association’s chairman, told The Jerusalem Post before the formalities of the event were underway.
“The world has to know that we did not go like lambs to the slaughter. There was resistance not only by people who carried arms, but also by those who forged documents and smuggled children out of the ghettoes to havens of safety.”
Shuv was 17 when the Nazis came to his native Vilna.
When the city’s ghetto was established, he was herded inside along with his parents and three siblings.
The Nazis soon decreed that only those with professions could remain in the ghetto, and could choose three family members to stay as well.
Shuv’s father Yosef Haim Shuv, a leatherworker, was torn as to which of his children to leave inside. It was decided to smuggle out the two eldest. Baruch and his sister were sent to a village in Belarus, where most of the Jews were killed within six months. Only 300 were spared, Shuv among them.
The remaining youth formed a resistance group, somehow acquiring arms.
When the Germans learned of the group, they informed the head of the Judenraat that for any person who escaped, 10 would be killed.
No one wished to have so many deaths on his conscience, so they stayed until 1942, when Shuv discovered that his parents were still alive. He returned to Vilna and came across a former schoolmate. After securing weapons, they went into the forest and fought together with non-Jewish partisans.
They mostly engaged in sabotage operations, and kept this up until the summer of 1944, when Vilna was recaptured by the Red Army. Shuv joined the Russians, fighting with them until the end of the war.
Speaking at Monday’s event, Shuv recalled that his father had been murdered by the SS a day before his concentration camp was liberated.
Shuv found the body – in his father’s pocket there was a note which read, “My son, take revenge and fight.”
The camp was only 50 km.
from where Shuv had been stationed; to this day, he can’t help but wonder whether he could have done anything to save his father.
The Nazi machine had decimated Shuv’s entire immediate family and claimed many of his school-friends and comrades- in-arms. He came to Israel, joined the underground and fought in the War of Independence.
At Monday’s event, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev told the audience, “You fought to save Jewish honor and to make your own choices about how to die. I salute the strength of your spirit.
“What you did serves as an inspiration to generations of Israeli soldiers who have witnessed your fight against impossible odds to emerge in triumph.”
At the event were cadets from Hatzerim Air Base, who mingled with the veterans and asked them questions about their experiences.
“It is because of what the partisans did that Israel can exist as a free country,” said Peres, adding that each emerged from the Valley of Death in the bitter struggle for human life and dignity, and for the honor of the Jewish people.
“Hitler committed suicide, but we the Jewish people survived and continued,” the president said.
Peres expressed deep regret that the absorption of resistance fighters into the country had been difficult, and that to this day Holocaust survivors are not treated in the manner they deserve. All of Israel has a moral obligation to amend this situation, he said.