(photo credit: Courtesy)
Excerpted from the speech Education Minister Gideon Saar gave at the UNESCO
International Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in Paris on Wednesday.
Thursday we commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day. The UNESCO General
Resolution 61, adopted in November 2007, states that the Holocaust “will forever
be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and
The moral and historical lesson that the human race has to
learn from the Holocaust must be based on an understanding of the total moral
collapse that took place in Europe during those horrific years.
regime was ruled by insanity.
“We were faced with the question...,” said
SS chief Heinrich Himmler to his men in October 1943, “...what about the women
and children? I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men... and
allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to
grow up. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear
from the earth.”
Yet the Nazi government could not have executed its plot
without deep, widespread cooperation throughout the continent – both by the
nations and by the elite. Many cooperated, and so many turned a blind eye. At
the same time, the doors to the countries of the world slammed shut to those
seeking to escape Europe and find asylum in any possible
Hitler marched forward, stage after stage, in his hate
campaign against the Jews. Discriminating against them, forcing them out of
society, branding them, herding them into defined territories and ultimately –
obliterating them. He constantly looked for further and further extremes of
feasibility in carrying out his satanic plans.
But at no point did he
encounter any real barrier, obstacle or resistance.
The ease with which
it was all executed is mind-boggling. Public officials, religious figures and
intellectuals, scientists and academics, the entire body of European
civilization – turned its back on its values and the most fundamental human
IN HIS monumental book The Years of Extermination,
Friedlander describes an incident in which a few elderly Jews (nine of them,
according to witnesses) returned from the massacre at Babi Yar in the Ukraine
and sat down outside their old synagogue.
No one dared approach them to
offer food or drink. The punishment for doing so was liable to be immediate
execution. One by one the Jews starved to death, until only two
A passerby suggested that a German sentry shoot the two men
rather than let them die of hunger. He thought about it for a moment, and then
We are members of an ancient and proud people, which throughout
history has contributed great spiritual, cultural and scientific assets to
humanity in general, and to Europe in particular. After 2,000 years of being
persecuted and murdered, we now have the privilege of living in a sovereign
We swore: Never Again. Upholding this vow dictates that we
shall never relinquish our right and duty to defend our people by our own
The universal obligation to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy,
the likes of which are unknown throughout human history, demands that we all
remember what happened on European soil during those times.
technology and science did not stop the atrocity. To a certain extent, the
opposite is true. They made it possible for the Nazi killing machine to commit
mass murder of inconceivable magnitude.
Science can serve either good or
Only allegiance to moral values can guarantee the
prevention of atrocities, and ensure a better future for the human race. Such an
allegiance requires the willingness to stand up to evil, confront it and
sometimes pay a price as well.
THIS KIND of allegiance can only be
assured through education. I am convinced that the more we continue studying and
teaching about what transpired during those darkest of days – as is happening in
more and more countries – the better we can fend off moral numbness, which is
always what allows man-made atrocities to take place.
I would like to
conclude with a command from Deuteronomy (25: 17-19): “Remember how Amalek
treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt. He met you on your
way and, after you had passed by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the
stragglers; when you were faint and weary... Do not forget.”
fulfill this command.