World leaders gather in remembrance of Holocaust at Yad Vashem summit

US Vice Pres. Mike Pence vows to stand with Israel against Iran, calls Islamic Republic leading state purveyor of antisemitism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin pose with world leaders for a group photo during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020 (photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin pose with world leaders for a group photo during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)
In the presence of dozens of world leaders and dignitaries at the World Holocaust Forum, US Vice President Mike Pence pledged that the US would “stand strong” against the Islamic Republic of Iran which he described as the leading sponsor of state led antisemitism in the world.
Pence was speaking at the central ceremony of the Firth World Holocaust Forum taking place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and his comments were echoed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called on the assembled world leaders to “ join the vital effort of confronting Iran.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Charles, Prince of Wales, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier all spoke at the summit as well, and talked of the importance of remembering the Holocaust and acting on its lessons amidst the resurgence of antisemitism and xenophobia around the world.
Following the speeches, two Holocaust survivors kindled a memorial torch, and the 46 world leaders in attendance laid memorial wreaths. The “El Maleh Rahamim” prayer for martyrs was recited at the end of the ceremony, as was the “kaddish” mourners prayer. 
The special gathering was organized ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day which falls next week on Monday, and will mark the 75th year since the liberation of Auschwitz.
Taking to the podium at Yad Vashem, Pence said that task of remembrance was “a solemn obligation,” to prevent the memory of those who murdered from being forgotten.
“Today we remember what happens when the powerless cry for help and the powerful refuse to answer,” said Pence.
The US vice president also spoke warmly of the Jewish state, saying that “the world can only marvel at the faith and resilience of the Jewish people, who just three years after walking in the valley of the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to reclaim a Jewish future and rebuild the Jewish State.”
And he had strong words for Iran saying that the international community “must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of antisemitism, against the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” in reference to Iran.
“The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he averred.
Netanyahu in his speech spoke of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz as “the ultimate symbol of evil,” but said that for the Jewish people it was also “the ultimate symbol of Jewish powerlessness,” and “the culmination of what can happen when our people have no voice, no land, no shield.”
The Israeli prime minister expressed concern however at what he described as a lack of “a unified and resolute stance against the most antisemitic regime on the planet,” in reference to Iran, its nuclear weapons program and threats made from Tehran to destroy the Jewish state.
“Israel salutes President Trump and Vice President Pence for confronting the Tyrants of Tehran that subjugate their own people, and threaten the peace and security of the entire world,” said Netanyahu.
“They threaten the peace and security of everyone in the Middle East and everyone beyond. I call on all governments to join the vital effort of confronting Iran.”
Putin made pointed remarks in his speech about Nazi collaborators in Europe who participated in the murder of Jews, comments which appeared to be a continuation of his spat with Poland and its government of responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War.
“The crimes committed by the Nazis were deliberate and planned, and the ‘final solution of the Jewish question’ as they the called is one of the darkest and most shameful pages of modern world history,” said the Russian President.
“But we will not forget that this crime also had accomplices who in their cruelty often excelled their masters. The death factories and concentration camps were operated not only by the Nazis, but also by their henchmen and accomplices in many European countries,” continued Putin.
Macron in his speech implored the world not to allow the memory of the Holocaust to be forgotten and for the world to unite against antisemitism and hatred in general.
“The international community must never forget the barbarism, the exclusion and shunning of others and of international law which was trampled by the Nazi henchmen,” said the French president.
And he drew attention to rising antisemitism around the world in recent years.
“The scourge of antisemitism has returned, and xenophobia has also raised its ugly head. Antisemitism is not only problem for Jews, it is first and foremost a problem of others. As demonstrated in the past, when antisemitism rises so does the inability of accepting others and racism also flourishes, and no one can be a victor.”
Charles, Prince of Wales, who is in Israel on the first ever official visit of a member of the British royal family to Israel, also spoke at the forum and also spoke of the importance of perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust.
“The magnitude of the genocide visited on Jewish people, defies comprehension…, The scale of the evil so great it threatens to obscure the individual stories of suffering and loss of which it is comprised, that is why events like this are so vitally important,” said the prince.
“The Holocaust must never be allowed to become simply a fact of history.
“The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”
Prince Charles said that to combat such hatred it must be remembered that all humans are “created in the image of God, and that “one human life is like an entire world,” using Hebrew for these expressions.
President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier was also in attendance and he spoke movingly of his feelings of responsibility as a German, saying he was “laden with the heavy, historical burden of guilt.”
Steinmeier began, and ended, his speech by reciting the Jewish Shehecheyanu blessing for new beginnings and renewal, and said it was as”gift” for him to be able to speak a the event.
And he spoke emotionally about two victims, Ida Goldish and her three year-old son Vili, and their fate at the hands of Nazi Germany.
“Germans deported them. Germans burned numbers on their forearms. Germans tried to dehumanize them, to reduce them to numbers, to erase all memory of them in the extermination camps,” said Steinmeier.
“They did not succeed. Ida and Vili were human beings. And as human beings, they live on in our memory.”
Continued the German President “The industrial mass murder of six million Jews, the worst crime in the history of humanity, it was committed by my countrymen.”
He deplored renewed antisemitism in Germany and said that hate was spreading, mentioned several recent antisemitic incidents in the country, but vowed that Germany would fight the phenomenon.
“The perpetrators are not the same. But it is the same evil. And there remains only one answer: Never again! Nie wieder! That is why there cannot be an end to remembrance.”