On Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, EU pledges to fight anti-Semitism in Europe
Monday, 24 April 2017
Israel's president Reuven Rivlin
Photo credit: Rami Shllush
The EU delegation to Israel, together with all embassies of EU member states, joined people in Israel commemorating the Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. The day was commemorated today (24 April) with the sound of sirens all over Israel. In a two-minute silence car drivers and pedestrians stopped in streets and roads.
“Today, on Yom Ha’Shoah, the EU Delegation to the State of Israel, together with all Embassies of EU Member States in Israel, remember with heavy hearts, the six million Jews, men, women and children, who were murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis,” says the EU statement.
On this day, we reflect on the atrocities that took place during one of the darkest chapters of European history but also draw strength from the survivors who are still among us and from the humanity of those who risked their lives while saving others.
We join the people of Israel and the Jewish communities across the EU in their commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and are with them in their prayers. As Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiezel reminded us, ”Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill.” The European Union reaffirms its duty and responsibility, now and for the sake of future generations, never to forget.
In the current reality of rising Antisemitism, fanaticism and violence worldwide, the European Union is determined to prevent and fight Antisemitism in all its forms and to make sure that Jews feel totally safe in Europe. We stand together in our efforts to resist this present tide of hatred and evil.
The values of democracy and human dignity on which the European Union was founded continue to guide us in these challenging times as we seek to maintain our vision of peace and tolerance for all citizens of the European Union.
Since yesterday evening Israeli TV has shown documentaries and films about the Holocaust. Holocaust survivors have given testimony about their sufferings during the Holocaust and how they were rescued, often thanks to non-Jewish neighbors who risked their lives to hide them and give them shelter.
One film showed how Albania saved practically all 1 500 Jews who were living in its territory or who had sought refugee there during the Nazi-German occupation by hiding them in mountain villages.
The major ceremony took place yesterday evening at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. This year the commemoration was entitled “Restoring Their Identities: The Fate of the Individual during the Holocaust”, as exemplified by six Holocaust survivors who lit memory torches.
Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern visited Israel for the first time and attended the ceremony. At a reception at president Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem he said, “Visiting Israel is not always about the future, it is also very much about our history and our legacy.”
He noted, “We have come a long way from the official denial, to the acknowledgement of our responsibility for the darkest chapters of our history. It really took decades, but tonight we will honor the martyrs and the heroes of the Holocaust, hand in hand, and shoulder to shoulder.”
Yad Vashem says in a statement that restoring the victims’ identities by documenting, remembering, researching and educating not only commemorates the world that was lost, but also makes a substantial contribution to shaping a new and better world.
To date, Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Project has collected over 4,700,000 names of Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. “It is a race against the clock to collect as many names of those murdered during the Holocaust before there are no more survivors left.”
At the ceremony yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime-Minister Benyamin Netanyahu both stressed Israel’s determination to defend itself by itself as the most important lesson learned from the Holocaust but differed on the interpretation of the Holocaust today.
President Rivlin spoke of the uniqueness of the Holocaust and of the importance of its lessons today:
“The Shoah has always been, and will always be a program of annihilation that was planned and implemented against the Jewish people. There has been no previous historical event like this: extermination divorced from any political conflict, divorced from territorial issues, or from a struggle for dominance.”
That said, he criticized an approach to the Holocaust whereby “it becomes the lens through which we view the world” and disagreed openly with his “mentor” and Israel’s former Prime Minister, Menachem Begin.
“According to this approach, the justification for the existence of the State of Israel is the prevention of the next Holocaust. Every threat is a threat to survival, every Israel-hating leader is Hitler.”
As he did last year, Rivlin stressed universal human rights and referred to the statement “beloved is man for he was created in God’s image” as one of the pillars in Holocaust remembrance.
“This is the most Jewish, humane, and fundamental truth. Man is beloved, every man, created in God’s image. This is a sacred obligation that the Jewish people cannot and does not wish to evade. At all times. In every situation. So too, we cannot remain silent in face of the horrors being committed far away from us, and certainly those happening just across the border.”
In his speech Prime-Minister Netanyahu drew attention to the fact that the allied powers knew already in 1942 about the Nazi mass extermination of the Jews but did not try enough to stop it. He drew a link to the indifference shown by the international community to other genocides, mass killings and war crimes in our time, including the civil war in Syria.
He did not mention it but in December 1942 the allied powers issued a statement that condemned for the first time the Nazi “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination” and threatened to “ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution”.
The statement was based on information from the Polish officer and diplomat Jan Karski to the Polish exile government in London.
In practice, however, not much was done to stop the genocide and save any surviving Jews. The war against the Nazi German armed forces took precedence, and any military action to bomb the extermination camps was seen as a distraction and was never carried out.
President Rivlin also participated in the official ceremony marking the end of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Day that took place at the Ghetto Fighters House Museum in northern Israel. Former German President Joachim Gauck also attended the ceremony.
The ceremony, entitled “Passing the Torch: transferring the responsibility of remembrance from the survivors to future generations”, included lighting torches and laying a wreath for the “Righteous Among the Nations”.