Several months ago, I headed the Israeli delegation to the ceremony marking 65 years since the liberation of the death camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. The candle-lighting ceremony took place outside in front of the monument. It was 15 degrees celsius below zero, but it was still warmer than the terrible winter of 1944-1945 when temperatures ranged from 30 to 35 degrees below zero. We stood for about 30 minutes during the ceremony, well-dressed for the weather, but nevertheless we were freezing. Suddenly I understood a simple, chilling truth about millions of my brothers and sisters who ended up in that cursed place: those who didn’t burn, froze; and those who didn’t freeze were burned.
Several months prior, I had visited the Wannsee Villa in Berlin. When I was there, I saw the original invitation for the meeting of high-level Nazi officials, during which they decided on the destruction of the Jewish people. On the invitation that was sent by the Deputy Head of the SS was written: “The chief of the Reich main security office, Reinhard Heydrich, cordially invites you to a discussion about the Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Breakfast will be served at 09:00”.
This is how, in an elegant villa on the shore of a pastoral lake, over breakfast and glasses of cognac, 15 men sat and decided how to destroy our people. No one batted an eyelid; no one expressed any doubt regarding the mission, either its necessity or its justness. Immediately after the meal, they began their work to erase the seed of Abraham from the Earth.
As I was walking through the villa, moving from document to document, I felt myself becoming filled with helpless rage, and the feeling continued to grow until it became a flood. At the end of the tour, my German host asked me to write something in the guest book. I sat in the chair and the sadness and the anger rose up and started to overflow. And because of the storm of emotions I wrote three words: Am Israel Chai [the People of Israel live].
Tonight at Mount Herzl, I say it again: Am Israel Chai. The people of Israel will continue to live. It re-established its country, gathered its exiles, built its army, settled its homeland and reunited its capital, Jerusalem. “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.” That is how David Ben-Gurion opened the Declaration of Independence. The State of Israel was born out of the ruins and the ashes, and today it impresses the entire world with the force of its creativity and innovation, with its advanced research and knowledge, with the momentum of its economy and with its free and democratic society.
Within several decades, the State of Israel has become one of the most advanced countries in the world: Israeli products help cure illnesses and feed millions of people; Israeli developments help irrigate fields and orchards on every continent; and Israeli ideas help save energy in every corner of the globe. Israel is a rich source of innovation for the world and is looking to the future.
Nevertheless, today we must ask the question: have the lessons of the Holocaust been learned? I believe that there are three lessons: fortify your strength, teach good deeds and fight evil.
The first lesson – fortify your strength – relates first and foremost to us, the people of Israel who were abandoned and defenseless when faced with waves of murderous hatred that rose against us time after time.
“In every generation there are those who stand against us.” And in this generation we must fortify our strength and independence so that we will be able to prevent the current enemy from carrying out its plan.
Fortifying our strength is the first condition for our existence.
At the end of the day, it is also a necessary condition to expanding the circle of peace with those neighbors who accept our existence.
The second lesson – teach good deeds – means accepting or rather teaching to accept the other and differing opinions. This is the recognition that is the foundation for the Jewish perspective that every man is created in G-d’s image and that every man has full rights to freedom, to life and to choosing his own path.
This is the essence of a free society. This is the basis that would prevent the growth of a Nazi ideology or any other fanatic ideology that preaches genocide and carries it out.
This is what we teach the children of Israel, which is a magnificent country, a beacon of tolerance in a dark and fanatical region.
But, ladies and gentlemen, this teaching of good deeds has a complementary side, and that is the third lesson of the Holocaust: fight evil. It is not enough to simply do good and be tolerant. A free society must ask itself what it will do when faced with the destructive forces of evil that seek to destroy and trample man and his rights.
There is no tolerance without boundaries and the boundary of tolerance must be outlined. And that is the answer that all free countries must define for themselves.
The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.
And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.
Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel. But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.
The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.
The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.
Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition. The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.
But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.
I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
These are the three lessons of the Holocaust: fight evil, teach good deeds and fortify your strength.
My friends, where does our strength come from? From our unity, from our heritage, from our common past and future. We treasure our past and forge the path to our future.
We are not here by chance. We returned to this land because it is our land; we returned to Zion because it is our city. We are paving roads north and south, and transforming a barren land into a flourishing garden. This is our answer to those who seek our destruction.
As the prophet Isaiah said:
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”