President Shimon Peres acknowledged the contribution made by Holocaust survivors to the establishment, security and continued existence of the state at a Hanukka candle-lighting ceremony at Beit Hanassi on Tuesday.
Speaking to some 250 survivors, most of them in their 80s, Peres told them that he stood before them with a great deal of humility and respect. He was aware that each of them carried a heavy burden of trauma and loss of family, that each of them was haunted at night by the shadows of the past, and yet each morning they swept away the nightmares, and with hope and courage faced a new day.
Whoever emerged from the horrors of the atrocities of the Holocaust, who experienced that Satanic evil and did not abandon his trust in humanity, symbolizes the purity of spirit and the miracle wrought by hope, said Peres.
"As far as I'm concerned, you're nothing less than heroes. Holocaust survivors made a very significant contribution to the victories of the State of Israel against her enemies. In the War of Independence, only three years after the Holocaust, the yishuv stood with its back to the wall, and the fate of the Jewish state hung in the balance."
The survivors made the difference, he emphasized.
During the years of World War II and immediately afterward, 70,000 European Jews, most of them young, served as soldiers in the War of Independence, said Peres.
In the midst of the War of Independence, more
than 25,000 volunteers came from the refugee camps of Europe and together with the recruits from overseas went straight from the boats to the frontlines of the battlefield. This reinforcement enabled the IDF to triumph in such a fateful conflict.
Among those who came to fight, recalled Peres, were soldiers who were the sole survivors of their families. Some fell in battle, anonymous heroes, with no one left to mourn them.
"Our history is full of sadness," said Peres, "but the festival of Hanukka is a festival of heroism and light. Just as Hanukka also symbolizes the victory of the few against the many, so Israel's independence is both a victory and a miracle. Here too, it was the few against the many - and the few did great things."
"The light of the candles that we lit here tonight is the light of life and hope, of prayer and triumph in which light conquered the darkness of evil."