Half of the Knesset stood in Auschwitz-Birkenau as proud representatives of the independent Jewish state on International Holocaust Memorial Day Monday.
“Holocaust survivors and their children, the second and third generation, MKs and ministers in the government of the State of Israel came here on a journey that sears our consciousness and is burned in our memory,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog said at the ceremony in Birkenau, as co-leader of the largest Israeli delegation ever to the site, made up of nearly 200 people, including 60 MKs and 24 survivors.
“We came here to breathe the polluted air, to taste from the poisoned cup, to feel the pain, not as individuals, but as representatives of a nation that is making its way through deep memories,” he added.
“The voice of Auschwitz commands us, the Jewish people, not to forget and to always rely on ourselves, on our power, to develop a strong society that is just, brave, and seeks peace and social justice.”
“If we lose hope to build a better world, we are surrendering to the spirit of Auschwitz,” Herzog said, calling for the world to act against anti-Semitism.
Noah Kliger, a Holocaust survivor and journalist, said he was proud to be in Auschwitz as a representative of Israel.
“We are a strong, democratic, liberal, developed country,” Kliger said.
Before the ceremony on the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, MKs took guided tours of the camp, with MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas) saying the kaddish prayer by the crematorium. In the Yad Vashem building, several MKs, including Menahem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism) and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan found names of their relatives in the book of 4.2 million names, which filled a room.
They then traveled to Birkenau for the joint ceremony with Polish officials, followed by a prayer ceremony by the monument in the death camp. Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the traditional kaddish prayer, MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) blew the shofar and Cantor Haim Adler recited the “El Maleh Rahamim” chant.
Ariel wore a tallit (prayer shawl) given to him by a survivor who hid it during the Holocaust and asked the minister to use it when he said kaddish in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Later, in Krakow, nearly half of the Knesset, including four ministers and four deputy ministers – the largest Knesset delegation ever – took part in an interparliamentary gathering to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Israeli speakers also included State Comptroller Joseph Shapira and Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein.
Coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu), who led the delegation with Herzog, said “the Holocaust was and remains incomprehensible, as are the personal tragedies behind it.
“From the horrors, the Jewish people rose and returned to their historical homeland and built its independent country. The eternal spirit of our ancient people, its cultural power and creativity will remain stronger than any oppressor,” Levin added. “Am Yisrael hai – the people of Israel live.”
European MPs brought by the Israel Jewish Congress and European Friends of Israel – including lawmakers from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain, Poland and the UK – spoke at the gathering, as well. About 20 members of the extreme right in Poland demonstrated outside the gathering, chanting anti-Semitic slogans.
The group protested the fact that the Knesset held an event on Polish soil, saying it undermined the country’s sovereignty.
The group was expected to have dinner in Krakow after press time, where renowned opera singer Andrea Boccelli was to perform, as was Israeli singer Amir Benayoun, who wrote a song specially for the occasion.
The event was the brainchild of Jonny Daniels, a political consultant and founder and executive-director of From The Depths (FTD), an organization with a mission to bring lessons of the past to future generations by working to help Holocaust survivors and preserve Jewish sites in Poland.