Bennett: Not even the most difficult wars today are like the Holocaust - watch

Watch the official state opening ceremony in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 27, 1011.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, April 27, 1011.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Holocaust Remembrance Day began Wednesday evening with the official state ceremony at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett both delivered remarks.

Herzog, the first speaker at the ceremony, said: “The state of the Jews arose as a lighthouse expressing the victory of light over darkness and promising that never again will a Jewish child hide in a dark and isolated cellar from those who want him dead. Never again will parents be torn apart from their children and sent on their final steps, simply because they are Jews. And never, ever, will depraved murderers stand behind a Jewish family, shoot them and dispatch them into the valley of the shadow of death.

“We stand no chance, nor have we any justification as a people and as a state, if we do not remember forever what happened to our people in the ghettos, in the basements of the Gestapo, in the execution pits, in the death trains, in the extermination camps, in the crematoria and in every other place where the image of humanity was lost and no trace of compassion survived.”

“Casting doubt on Israel’s right to exist is not legitimate diplomacy but pure antisemitism, which must be uprooted,” he said. “We must continue fighting against ugly expressions of antisemitism, which is returning to rear its head in many places in the world, including on social media.”

Herzog also addressed Holocaust survivors and said: “Our dear Holocaust survivors, even as your numbers dwindle, our obligations toward you only grow, and they must be seen and heard from every edge of the earth. You are the pillar of fire before our camp. You provide us with inspiration and hope, and you instill in us faith in the righteousness of our cause and in our willingness to move forward.”

A Holocaust survivor and her great-granddaughter touch in a picture presented by Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on April 27, 2022. (credit: Karen Gillerman)A Holocaust survivor and her great-granddaughter touch in a picture presented by Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on April 27, 2022. (credit: Karen Gillerman)

Bennett said: “My brothers and sisters, the Holocaust is an unprecedented event in human history. I bother to say this because as the years go by, there is more discourse in the world that compares other difficult events to the Holocaust. But no, even the most difficult wars today are not the Holocaust and are not like the Holocaust.”

“No event in history, cruel as it may have been, equals the extermination of European Jews by the Nazis and their aides,” he said. “The case of the extermination of the Jews is different. Never, anywhere else and at no other time has one people acted to destroy another in such a planned, systematic and cool way, out of absolute ideology and not out of utilitarianism.”

Bennett’s words were meant to refute Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who equated his country’s situation in the current war with that of the Holocaust.

“At the end of the war, the Nazis preferred to invest in the extermination of Jews, even when it robbed them of energy and resources from [their own] war efforts,” Bennett said. “What brought them to this? Why is the Holocaust the ultimate, absolute expression of thousands of years of antisemitism? Why is there antisemitism?

“How is it that over 3,500 years ago, Pharaoh decided to exterminate all the Hebrew males? And 1,000 years later, Haman wanted to exterminate all the Jews? And why, 700 years ago, did Britain expel and kill its Jews? And 500 years ago, Spain went on its path, and 350 years ago, so it was in Yemen? What is the motive, what is the reason for all these events? The answer is there is not one. There is no reason for antisemitism.”

“Antisemitism wears a different guise every time it appears,” he said. “Every time we allow ourselves to believe that we have transitioned to a new age, one that is liberal and modern, one that is void of Jew-hatred, reality alerts us to the truth.

“We need to rely only on ourselves: to be strong and not apologize for our existence or for our successes. We built a strong Jewish state that is flourishing. Israel must remain strong. Forever.

“The Jewish nation can exist in the Diaspora and dream of Jerusalem. But at the end of the day, the true and natural existence of our nation can only happen in the physical location of our ancestral homeland – here in the Land of Israel.”

Bennett cited the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which he said was one of the greatest exhibitions of Jewish bravery.

“What is discussed far less about the uprising is the fact that when they fought, they did not fight as one unified body, but as competing Jewish factions that did not work together,” Bennett said. “I struggle to understand what ideological differences could have been so great they divided the Jews, fighting such a terrible fight. My brothers and sisters, we cannot let the same divisive spirit break Israel up from the inside today.”

Yad Vashem Council chairman Rabbi Israel Meir Lau kindled the memorial torch, and Moshe Meron spoke on behalf of the survivors. Holocaust survivor Beni Harel recited El Maleh Rahamim, the Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs.

Israeli singers Ester Rada and Ron Buchnik, as well as the IDF Paratroopers’ Honor Guard, participated in the ceremony, which included narrative pieces by actor Noa Koler. The MC was Dani Cushmaro.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, a two-minute siren will be heard across Israel, followed by a ceremony at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square in the presence of the president, prime minister, Knesset speaker and Supreme Court president.

On Thursday, Polish President Andrzej Duda will take part in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Participants of the March will cover the three-kilometer stretch leading from the Arbeit macht frei gate at the former German Auschwitz I camp to the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau site.

This year, the march will take place in Auschwitz and Birkenau after a two-year break caused by the COVID–19 pandemic.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.