The memorial wall in dedication to the 36 diplomats who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust..
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Israel works closely with its partners around the world to “defend and reveal the truth about the Holocaust, and we expect to do that with every country, including Poland,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
Netanyahu’s comments came at the dedication in the Foreign Ministry of a memorial wall to 36 diplomats from 21 countries, recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The prime minister’s mention of Poland comes amid the crisis between Jerusalem and Warsaw stemming from the latter’s controversial draft legislation that would make it a crime to speak of the complicity of Poland in the Holocaust, or use the term “Polish death camp” to refer to the Nazi extermination camps on Polish soil. One of Israel’s concerns about the law is that it will limit research into the Holocaust and the role of the Poles.
“The truth about the Holocaust must always be studied. It must always be remembered,” Netanyahu said. “Above all, future generations must internalize the lessons of the Holocaust. I think the most important lesson for all humanity is that hatred, extreme ideologies, these must always be confronted early when there is time to nip them in the bud.”
Netanyahu said that the Jewish people have “learned to believe our enemies when they call for our annihilation. We’ve learned that we must be able to defend ourselves by ourselves against any potential threat.”
The prime minister said that Israel has not only “internalized these lessons,” but put them into practice.
“We hold our hand out to peace for any of our neighbors who wish peace with us, and there are quite a few, and their number is growing, I’m happy to say, and I hope it will extend to all,” he said. “But we are forever conscious of the danger to us and to the rest of mankind of those who want to exterminate us. Ultimately, they exterminate the world we all want to keep and cherish.”
Among the names on the memorial wall is that of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat in Budapest who saved tens of thousands of Jews by issuing protective passports or sheltering them in buildings designated as Swedish territory.
There are also lesser-known names, such as Ho Feng-Shan, the Chinese consul-general in Vienna who issued visas to 3000 Jews; Captain Francis Foley, a British passport control officer in Berlin who helped thousands of Jewish families escape Germany after Kristallnacht; and Luis Martins de Souza Dantas, the Brazilian ambassador to France who saved hundreds of Jews by issuing diplomatic visas for entry into Brazil.
These are “lesser-known heroes,” Netanyahu said, who “deserve to be household names.”
“We chose to place this work, with these brave diplomats’ names, here in a prominent place of our Foreign Ministry, because these are the kind of people we ask our young diplomats to emulate. Men and women of boundless courage, men and women of the deepest moral character,” he said. “By the way, many of them were castigated by their foreign ministries and for many of them their career came to a swift end. But they risked everything for the truth and the first thing is establishing the truth.”
Of the 36 names on the list, six were Swedish diplomats, five were Swiss, four were Spanish, and there were two each from Portugal, Romania and Brazil.