It is an honor to speak on behalf of the Diplomatic Community on the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust and other Genocides, at the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies.
While my generation was born after the Shoah, the horror of what happened has not diminished over time and the impact and lesson of what happened lives on in our collective memory.
I first became aware of the horror of the Shoah as a young boy when my synagogue hired a new rabbi, Rabbi Isaac Neuman. He came to our little town in the American Midwest with a thick accent, a deep commitment to Jewish tradition, and a number tattooed on his arm in Auschwitz.
To our community’s great good fortune, he was willing to peel back the layers of pain and history and share stories of Jewish life in Poland before the Shoah, the indescribable suffering he endured and the many loved ones he lost, and the miracle of his survival and liberation. These stories, that sustain the memory of these terrible events, are an inheritance we are duty-bound to preserve.
My rabbi’s beloved family were among the six million Jews in Europe annihilated in a methodical, systematic fashion by the Nazis and the collaborators, often with the complicity of the very people who were supposed to protect them.
Millions of others, including, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent to their deaths at the hands of the Nazi regime and their allies.
We, as the generations that came after, must never forget. Today, January 27, the anniversary of the date of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the international community pauses to commemorate the victims of the Shoah.
We also recall and honor all those who overcame that hell; all those who were plagued by guilt and despair for surviving what their loved ones did not; and all those who had the will and conviction to live on, though humanity and the world had failed them.
On this day, we remind ourselves that we cannot and must not ignore the stain of any genocide and mass murder on humanity. Because despite the declarations from the world after the Shoah that such horror shall be prevented we know that the world has continued to witness mass murder and genocide. Millions around the world, from Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and elsewhere, have fallen victim to genocide and mass murder.
These events do not just occur overnight. All genocides, all holocausts start, as did the Shoah, with the alienation, demonization, and marginalization of others.
Before the gas chambers, there were mass shootings. Before the mass shootings, ghettos and concentration camps were established. Before the ghettos and camps, discriminatory laws were passed. And before the laws, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia flourished in public and political life unabated. And before that it was at the kitchen table, and in places of worship.
That is why we have the responsibility to condemn the demonization of any group of people anywhere based on their race, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, or other criteria.
We have the responsibility to act against the forces of anti-Semitism, bigotry, and racism in any form. We must never allow another genocide to be perpetrated against the Jewish people or of any other people. And we must take seriously those who threaten such acts.
We have the responsibility to learn and to teach the lessons of the Shoah, to prevent it from ever recurring. We have the responsibility not to remain silent.
As our great teacher, Elie Wiesel, has written:“Indifference is more dangerous than anger and hatred … The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry child, the homeless refugee — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.”
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where there are those who deny the holocaust and even threaten another. We live in an era of growing ultra-nationalism and increasingly polarised communities where the foundations of violence are nurtured and cultivated.
The daily news reminds us relentlessly that that genocide, anti-Semitism, racism, religious and ethnic intolerance, xenophobia, discrimination, bigotry, and the scourge of Holocaust denial are ever present.
But…..Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel Live.
What is different today is that the Jewish people have a place of their own, the State of Israel, free and strong, and able to defend itself. And Israel has the United States, and many other friendly countries, deeply committed to its security. Together, we can and we must work to ensure that threats of a new Shoah can never be realized.
The Holocaust and all acts of genocide must remain in our collective memory. But so must the unwavering spirit of those who fought back by whatever means possible – whether in the ghettos, work camps, or death camps, struggling to preserve their dignity, humanity and decency in the face of evil.
Let us also be inspired by the thousands of righteous men and women around the world who risked their lives to do what they could to fight the injustice of the Holocaust and genocide in Europe.
The Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the Japanese diplomat Chihune Sugihara, the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, and the Chinese diplomat Feng Shan Ho.
From Oskar Schindler, to theTunisian businessman Khaled Abd El Wahab, and the Bulgarian politician Dmitar Peshev.
The memory of the Shoah, will forever remind the world of its responsibility to ensure the sanctity and dignity of all human life.
That is why the work of the Massuah Insitutue is so critical. As the number of survivors of the Shoah dwindles each year, Massuah and other like-minded institutions work to ensure their stories and their memories survive. We applaud their valiant efforts to continue the discourse, educate, inform, and preserve the memory of the Shoah, long after the witnesses are no longer with us.
As Jack Kagan, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, said: “Public remembrance is not for the benefit of victims to remember what happened to them. Victims remember all too well what happened to them. Public reflection is the act of recognition. It states to the victims and their families that their humanity is valued, that their loss is our loss, and that their suffering is shared.”
By commemorating International Holocaust Memorial Day together, we, of the Diplomatic Community here in Israel, have a special responsibility to stand united, including with the people of Israel, in calling on the world to prevent such crimes from happening again.
Let us share our similarities and celebrate our differences. Let us strive to make a better world, a world where our understanding of how to live with one another far outpaces our knowledge of how to destroy one another.
As is written in Isaiah 2:4:
“וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.”
“And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
And for all those who have perished so cruelly and so needlessly in the Shoah or any mass murder or genocide:
“יהי זכרם ברוך”
“May Their Memories Be Blessed.