Vice Premier Silvan Shalom's speech at the March of the Living

By
April 21, 2009 14:52

Dear survivors, family members, soldiers and officers of the IDF, participants in the March of the Living, distinguished guests, Thousands of years ago, the Prophet Ezekiel had a vision. In a well-known chapter of the Bible, the Prophet describes how he is led to a valley full of dry bones. The bones, says the Prophet, are the Children of Israel. But the bones are dry, all hope is dead. As he sees this vision, God asks the Prophet: "Can these bones live?" (Ezekiel 37,3) God's question to Ezekiel finds an echo in the hearts of all those who arrived to liberate the Nazi death camps: Can there be any hope for mankind after these horrors? Can these bones live? Here with us today are many of those who brought the breath of life back into those dry bones, both those who liberated the camps and victims who survived the camps. We can only stand in amazement in face of the strength and the courage of those who survived. We look in wonder at their achievements, see how much they have created and built and contributed to mankind - families, careers, literature, music and some have even established a new State. At the same time, while we look in wonder at the great contributions made by the survivors, we can only begin to guess how much all those millions who did not survive might have contributed. We have mourned their loss every day - and continue to do so. Every Jewish family is familiar with this pain, as is my own family too. My wife's grandfather and grandmother, together with seven of their eight children, were taken away and murdered. My wife's mother, Paula, may she rest in peace, managed to save her life by escaping into the forest where she joined the partisans. My mother too is a Holocaust survivor, so I too am from a family of survivors. When the Germans invaded Tunisia, they soon reached the town of Gabes where my ancestors had lived for many generations. Each day, the Jewish Community of Gabes were required to provide a quota of people to work in the slave labor camps that the Germans set up at the site of the local airfield. My mother's uncles were also taken there. One day the Nazis arrived at my grandmother's home to take the family away to some unknown destination. As soon as my grandmother saw them coming she quickly took my mother, who was still a small child, and hid her inside a large cooking pot in the kitchen. My grandmother then ran to lock the iron gate at the entrance just as the Germans arrived at the other side and began shooting at the gate. An Arab neighbor came out and told the Germans that my grandmother had locked the gate because of modesty; that women are forbidden to open the door to a strange man. He suggested they come back when my grandfather and uncles would be at home. The Germans went on the way to other Jewish homes, saying they would return later. But meanwhile, the whole family fled into the distant hills and so they all, including my mother, escaped the Nazis. My family's story is not so different from those of many other survivors in Poland, or Austria, and of course in Tunisia and Libya too. The Germans never succeed in completing their plans to use the SS forces to kill the Jews and totally destroy our community with all its institutions. But, even in Tunisia, they did begin implementing the horrifying process of the Final Solution. Seventy seven (77) transports left Tunisia, headed for slave labor camps and the death camps of Auschwitz, Sobivor and Buchenwald. We now know the names of at least 160 Jewish victims who were sent on these transports, although there are many more whose names are lost, of whom there is no trace. The German Nazis planned to destroy all the Jewish communities of Tunisia and Libya using the same methods so terribly familiar from Auschwitz. They failed to carry out their plans, not from kindness or human feeling, but because they were forced to transfer a large proportion of their forces from Tunisia to reinforce the German army in the desert, on the Russian front, and particularly at the battle of Stalingrad. Had the Germans won at Stalingrad and at El Alamein, they would no doubt have returned to complete their evil plans in Tunisia too. * * * * * Our presence here today is a symbol of the victory of humanity over evil. Today is the day that our private memories become part of the collective memory of the whole world. From here, from the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp, from this earth that is soaked with the blood of those innocents who were murdered here, I call on every human being everywhere: Do Not Forget! Do not forget the victims - but neither must you forget the murderers! Remember how millions of Jews were led to their death by those murderers while the world remained silent! Remember, but also take action! It is not enough to remember, to be aware and to commemorate the events of the Holocaust, the horrors of the Shoah. The Jewish People and all humankind must continue to learn the lessons of those events, and take determined action to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to the generations to come. The human race has no future if we do not learn the lessons of the Shoah. The Shoah teaches us that although the Jews may be the first to suffer from the destructive hatred of anti-Semitism, they will not be the only ones nor will they be the last to suffer the consequences of that hate. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I initiated and promoted the institution of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The decision to designate the 27th of January as the day on which all the countries of the world remember the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, represents an enormous victory by the Jewish People for commemoration of the Holocaust. For 64 years, Israel was alone in marking Holocaust Day while the rest of the world ignored it - today almost everyone marks that event. Following that significant decision, each year ceremonies and special lessons are held in schools around the world, where the members of the young generation learn about what happened during that terrible period, and what must be done in order to prevent such things happening in the future. Many countries hold rallies and ceremonies with the participation of heads of state and government, where there is a single message: Such horrors have no place in the modern world. Sadly, today we are again facing an existential threat just like that of sixty-four years ago, and I wonder if we have learned anything since then? Right now, as we stand here today, representatives of many countries of the world are meeting in Geneva for the second Durban Review Conference. The Conference meeting today in Geneva is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic and should be denounced. The Durban Review Conference, instead of dealing with issues of racism and education for tolerance, is engaged in spreading poison and hate. I am glad to say that many countries like United States, Australia, Canada, Italy and Netherlands have indeed condemned this Conference, but not all have done so. The Durban Review Conference is living proof, a wake-up call for us all - the world has not yet learned the lesson, has not yet truly assimilated what happened 64 years ago. The Durban Conference proves to us that remembrance and commemoration of the events and the horrors of the Shoah are not sufficient. We must continue to study these lessons and to take determined action to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah are really remembered. Since its very establishment, the State of Israel has been fighting for its existence. But the war declared by terrorism on the values of liberty and of democracy is no longer only Israel's problem. The whole free world must develop consistent and long-term political strategies - they cannot make do with short-term solutions. A political wall of defense is the guarantee of any military success in the present or in the future. For many years the world has believed that terrorism and Iran are Israel's problems. It was only after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th, in London, in Madrid and in Beslan in Chechnya, that the world began to realize that terrorists can hit anywhere and anyone. Since then, the world has begun to take more serious action to end terrorism with quite impressive results, but there is still much work to be done. Even today, sixty four years later, there are countries that deny the Holocaust and call for the destruction of Israel and wiping her of the map. Iran represents a threat to the very existence of Israel, but not only of Israel! Iran represents a threat to the existence of the entire free world, and it is vitally important that we realize this soon. If Iran is not stopped, there will be a very dangerous arms race, which will undermine stability and peace not only in our region but throughout the world. Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas - all these have become Iranian agents. Today, it is still Israel that is fighting the war against terrorism for the whole world, but today more than ever, the world must understand that these agents of Iran can reach them too. Iran will be stopped only if the world stops hesitating, and begins taking determined international action, intensifying sanctions. Only then will Iran abandon her ambitious program to develop nuclear weapons. Our presence here today is a call to all the nations of the world against the dangers that result from causeless hatred, from racism and from prejudice. The March of the Living is not only about the importance of paying our respect to the millions who were murdered and to show all those who seek to destroy us that we are stronger than any evil - it is also about lighting a beacon of warning for every person wherever he or she lives. This beacon of warning will ensure that the memory of what happened here will remain alive and that through that memory, the words "Never Again" will truly be realized. Can there be anything more terrible than the methodical annihilation of a whole nation, burning their holy books, stealing their dignity as human beings, their hair and even their teeth, turning them into numbers, into soap, into ashes and dust at Treblinka and at Dachau? The answer is yes! There is something more terrible. It is even worse to do all those terrible things and then to deny them. Denial of the Holocaust not only desecrates the memory of the victims and wounds the survivors, it also denies the world the opportunity to learn the lesson of those events - a lesson we must learn again today, just as we had to sixty four years ago. It is our duty to ensure that Jews will never again find themselves in a world where they have no home, no safe shore to escape to, and do not have the power of a Jewish army to defend them. This is the lesson which the mother bequeaths to her son in Uri Zvi Greenberg's poem, Holy of Holies: "Of rough fabric is your apparel, my son. The apparel of a soldier. And a rifle is on your shoulder… Even on the Sabbath you will not change This apparel, my son. Even when the redeemer comes and nations beat their swords Into plowshares, and fling their rifles into the fire, You will not, my son. You will not! . . . Lest the Gentiles should rise again and collect iron And rise against us again and we shall not be prepared As we were not prepared until now…" We are standing here today to say to those who remember, to those who have forgotten, and to those who do not know: Never again will we be found unprepared. Never again. As the years pass, the number of survivors grows smaller, and the day is not far off when those terrible events will cease to be a memory and will pass into history. Let us all make a commitment never to forget the victims, never to abandon the survivors, never to allow those terrible events to be repeated.


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