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(photo credit: AP)
Standing in a room with a commanding presence overlooking the German capital, and just after being presented with the architectural blueprints for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday the world's leaders "must realize their fates are imperiled by those who threaten our fate."
Iran was the unmentioned but undeniable presence in the elegant boardroom of the Axel Springer publishing house, where the plans, which detailed meticulously where everything was to be built at the extermination camp, were laid on a wooden table.
Netanyahu made the moment personal by saying that his father-in-law's entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust, and that his own children are alive today because his father-in-law decided in 1933 to "pursue his goal of going to the Holy Land and pursuing Zionism."
"Yossi Peled's family was not much luckier," he said of the cabinet minister who accompanied him to Germany. "His mother was in Bunk 10 - the Mengele bunk."
"These are the facts," the prime minister said, and then spelled out what he said were the clear lessons.
"The first lesson is that we cannot allow evil to prepare the mass death of innocents, and that the most important thing to do is to nip it in the bud," Netanyahu said.
The Nazis were not stopped because the civilized powers of the day did not "act in time to stop the arming of barbarism, and armed barbarism knows no limits," the prime minister said, in a clear reference to Iran. "It has to be unarmed and disarmed in time, for human lives to be saved and civilization's future secured," he added.
That lesson was linked to another, Netanyahu said, which is that "it is important for the Jews to have the power to defend themselves. But it is also important for leaders of other nations to realize that their own fate is imperiled by those who threaten our fate. and therefore they have to act in time."
It wasn't as if the world didn't know what was being perpetuated at Auschwitz, Netanyahu said.
"They knew but didn't act. We cannot allow this to be repeated. We, meaning the whole civilized world, cannot allow those who wish to perpetuate mass death, those who call for the destruction of the Jewish people or the Jewish state, to go unchallenged."
Netanyahu recalled that his father stood in the same room in 1976, shortly after his brother Yonatan was killed in Entebbe, Uganda, and was taken to the window overlooking the city by the German media mogul Axel Springer, a passionate supporter of Israel and of German-Israeli ties, who said: "This is where freedom ends, and tyranny begins."
Springer, Netanyahu recalled, told his father that there was a connection between terror and tyranny, just as there was a connection between freedom and peace.
"This basic equation is with us today," he said. "But the main thing that has to happen for tyranny to be defeated is to make sure that the forces of freedom act to defend themselves in time."
Netanyahu thanked Kai Diekmann, editor of the Bild newspaper, which is owned by the long-deceased Springer's company, for presenting him with the blueprints, which he referred to as "the gift of truth."
He called the plans, which were discovered last year in a Berlin home and will now be housed at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, "a very important historical document."
At his press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the afternoon, Netanyahu pointed to Peled, a former OC Northern Command, as an example of the difference between the pre-Holocaust days and now.
"What has happened is not that there are no longer those who rise up to destroy us, but that the Jewish people can defend themselves," the prime minister said.
Merkel reiterated Germany's support for Israel, saying that the Holocaust was a singular event in history for which the German people are forever responsible.
Netanyahu on Thursday also toured the villa on Lake Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin, where in January 1942 senior Nazi officials gathered and drafted the Final Solution.
"In this place, the Nazis planned the monstrous destruction of the Jewish people. Today, as prime minister of Israel I have one message: The people of Israel live," Netanyahu said.