What about the survivors?

By SILVAN SHALOM
January 26, 2010 23:11

We have yet to do all that's necessary to give them what they are entitled to.

4 minute read.



What about the survivors?

silvan shalom 298 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

Ceremonies and gatherings are taking place worldwide on Wednesday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Throughout the world everything stops for a moment and people remember the events of the Holocaust, the horrific acts committed by the Nazis and, most important of all, the victims. We all stop for one moment to remember what occurred 65 years ago and vow that this will never be allowed to happen again.

The fact that the whole world is marking Holocaust Remembrance Day is not an insignificant matter. This day, which has been marked every year on January 27 since 2005, is the victory of the Jewish people over baseless hatred, racism and the denial of what happened then.

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As foreign minister in 2005, I played a leading role in bringing about UN resolution 60/7 and I can tell you that I have been in the public service for many years and have done a lot in that time. But the day of the UN vote was one of the most emotional and satisfying for me not only as a public servant, as a government minister, but also as a citizen and as someone from a family of Holocaust survivors.

When we express our amazement in light of the contribution that the survivors have made to humanity, we can only begin to imagine what contribution the millions who did not survive could have made. We mourn their loss daily. Every family knows the pain, and my family included - my wife's grandfather and grandmother and seven of their eight children were taken away and murdered. Paula, my wife's mother, may her memory be blessed, succeeded in escaping into the forests and joined the partisans, which saved her life.

My mother also succeeded in escaping from the Nazis. When the Germans invaded Tunisia, they very quickly arrived at the town of Gabes where my forebears had lived for many generations. The community in Gabes was required to provide forced laborers every day. The Germans set up an improvised labor camp near the airport. My mother's uncles were also taken there.

MY FAMILY'S story is similar to many other stories of Holocaust survivors in Poland and in Austria, and of course also in Tunisia and Libya. Fortunately for us, the Germans did not succeed in activating SS forces in Tunisia for the extermination of the Jews and the total destruction of the communities and their institutions. However, they did start to implement the horrific process of the Final Solution. Seventy-seven transports left Tunisia for the Auschwitz, Sobibor and Buchenwald extermination camps. We now know the names of at least 160 Jewish victims from North Africa who were on these transports and there are many others whose names and traces remain unknown.The Nazis planned to exterminate all the Jewish communities in Tunisia and Libya by the same methods that we know they used in Auschwitz. That they were unable to carry out their plans was not due to kindheartedness or humanity but only because they had to transfer some of their forces in Tunisia to reinforce the German forces fighting on the Russian front, and in particular for the Battle of Stalingrad. Had the Germans won at Stalingrad and at El Alamein, they would no doubt have also returned to complete their crimes in Tunisia.

On Sunday, at a meeting of the cabinet we marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day and it was decided to establish an interministerial committee to deal with anti-Semitism. At the meeting I asked the prime minister to include in the committee's terms of reference the subject of dealing with recompense and compensation for North African Holocaust survivors.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a case of just paying lip service. The resolution regarding this day is a dramatic turning point in the world's attitude to the Jewish people, to its past and its future. But there is more. We must view this day as an opportunity not only for remembrance but also for steps that we take here in Israel regarding the Holocaust survivors.

Every year, we remember those who perished and honor the survivors. Every year we remind those who have forgotten and teach those who still have no knowledge of what happened.

On this day we remember the millions of Jews who were murdered, but also on this day we commit ourselves to remembering those who survived. As to those who remain, they are to our sorrow already very small in number, and it is proper that the State of Israel should provide for them.

I regret to say that even today, 65 years later, while we are asking the world to acknowledge the Holocaust and the rights of the Holocaust survivors, we here have still not yet done all that is necessary to give the survivors all that they are entitled to by right and not merely by way of charity.

The writer is vice prime minister, minister for regional development and minister of development of the Negev and Galilee. He has served as deputy prime minister, foreign minister, minister of finance, minister of science and deputy minister of defense.


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