Presidential address at the Ponar Memorial ceremony in Lithuania

‘Painful memories are etched in our hearts’ the President said at Valley of Slaughter in Vilnius, where the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered some 70,000 Jews.

President Shimon Peres 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Amid the trees of Ponar, I can hear the words of Abba Kovner echoing the cries of our murdered brothers and sisters.
I quote: “We shall remember...
The city houses and the country houses.
The aged man and the features of his face.
The mother in her kerchief.
The young girl with her braids.
The child, The child, The entire assembly of Jews Brought down to slaughter on the soil of Europe By the Nazi destroyer, The man who suddenly screamed.
And while screaming died.”
Ponar, from where thousands of our fathers and mothers, our little boys and girls, were murdered.
They will never return.
They will never die in our hearts.
Seventy thousands of them were Jewish.
And thousands were others.
Why? What for? The pastoral scenery surrounding us here is misleading.
Its color remains green. But the ground is red.
The screams of the victims detonating from the damp soil will remain a disgrace to humanity.
Vilnius was considered the Jerusalem of Lithuania, where hopeful and vibrant Jewish communities built a life of their own.
And suddenly, a third of Lithuania’s Jewish people were slaughtered in these fields.
Only a mass grave remains in front of us.
Innocent men and women, babies and children were stripped and then pushed and thrown to the cold bottom of this pit.
Their bodies were tortured and burned at the sound of a short-range burst of fire.
In the massacre valley of Ponar, there were no gas chambers.
Just direct murder.
Just by pressing the trigger.
One after another.
Day in, day out.
Five hundred a day.
No interruptions.
No regrets.
No second thought.
No thought at all.
Killing was their vocation.
History had known no such atrocities, ever.
Just few survived.
From the scorched bodies, only the spirit remained.
An eternal spirit. Facing evil. Our people remained humane.
The spirit of our moral call, Tikkun Olam – to better the world – was molded from the lead of the bullets.
Ponar is a warning.
For us all.
For the generations to come.
Never again.
Never, not even for a moment, may we weaken in our common mission against racism, anti-Semitism and mass destruction.
In Vilnius, there were 200 churches and 110 synagogues. Yet there is just one Lord in heaven.
So let us pray together, let us convert sword and war into brotherhood and friendship between peoples.
Let us pray for the freedom and peace of every person. For all nations. For posterity.
The State of Israel is a living triumph over the horrors of the Shoah.
A bastion of survivors.
A tribute to the hopes of six million Jews.
In spite of the Holocaust, Israel is the continuation of the interrupted dreams of one-and-a-half million children murdered at the dawn of their days.
We can never forget. And we shall always teach our children to withstand darkness.
Lithuania has undertaken this duty with responsibility and seriousness.
Madam President [Dalia Grybauskaite], we respect your efforts to memorialize and educate the youth about this shameful stain, so as never to allow it to happen again.
The newly created democracy of Lithuania is based on courage and tolerance.
On building a future for the free.
The Lithuanian people have learned that the key to raising a new, tolerant generation is in facing the horrors of history with courage.
The blood-soaking the soil of Ponar will not be atoned for until its lessons will become the legacy of humanity as a whole.
Painful memories are etched in our hearts.
Yet high hopes beat in our souls.
On our journey from the abyss of the past to the heights of the tomorrow, we remain determined as ever, to seek justice.
To offer peace.
Not to forget.
Not to forgive.
To pray for the future of our children.
To allow them to be free.
To enjoy peace.
To respect others.
Promising both to remember the shadows of the past and the light of the future.
The Lord who made peace in his Heavens will provide peace on the land.