(Jerusalem, Israel) — What a tremendous honor to attend the opening ceremonies of “Yom HaShoah,” Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem this evening. It was my first time to participate in this annual event, and I was repeatedly moved to tears.
I was moved by Israeli President Shimon Peres’ speech, as he shared personal stories of his family being burned to death by the Nazis in a wooden synagogue in Minsk (the same city my father’s Jewish family escaped from in the early 1900s).
I was moved by the Prime Minister’s address, as he raised some very challenging questions, and warned the world is in danger of making the same mistakes as in the 1930s.
I was particularly moved by the testimonies of six Holocaust survivors, who bore the brunt of the West’s mistakes back in the 1930s and 40s, and by this year’s theme: “Jews ‘On The Edge’ — 1944: Between Annihilation And Liberation.”
As I wrote about in The Auschwitz Escape, 1944 was the pivotal year in the Holocaust. The Nazis were murdering millions of Jews, but the Allied were liberating more and more of Europe. Then Vrba, Wetzler, Rosin and Mordowicz escaped and told the world the truth about the “Final Solution.” It was a race against time. Would Hitler succeed in killing all of Europe’s Jews? Or would Roosevelt and Churchill succeed in defeating the Third Reich, saving the Jewish people, and setting all of Europe and the world free from this horrific evil?
As it is late here in the epicenter, I will post my personal comments and observations on the evening at a later time.
For now, let me simply provide a few excerpts from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s powerful keynote address, which anchored the evening. Let me also provide the link to the English text of the full address (though it was delivered in Hebrew). Please take the time to read the full speech. It is as moving as it is timely.
UPDATE — LATEST HEADLINES:
- ‘Holocaust teaches us to prevent nuclear-armed Iran’ — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compares West’s inaction before the Holocaust to the world’s passivity as it’s faced with Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction (Haaretz)
- Netanyahu compares Iran nuclear threat to Nazi menace — At Remembrance Day ceremony, PM implores world not to repeat mistakes; Peres warns of resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe (Times of Israel)
- Abbas: Holocaust ‘most heinous crime’ in modern era (Jerusalem Post) —
- Netanyahu: Abbas formed alliance with group that wants to carry out another Holocaust (Jerusalem Post)
Excerpts from PM Netanyahu’s address:
WHY DID WORLD LEADERS & JEWISH LEADERS FAIL TO DETECT THE COMING HOLOCAUST IN TIME?
- I have said many times in this place that we must identify an existential threat in time and take action in time. Tonight, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I ask myself: why, in the years preceding the Holocaust, did the overwhelming majority of world leaders and Jewish leaders fail to detect the danger in time? In retrospect, all the warning signs were there: the strengthening of the Nazi regime year after year; the horrific anti-Semitic propaganda which grew stronger with each passing month; and the murderous attacks on Jews which began as a trickle and transformed into a huge wave.
- In retrospect, there is a direct line connecting the racial laws and the gas chambers.
- Very few world leaders understood the enormity of the threat to humanity posed by Nazism. Churchill was one of them. Few among our leaders, primarily Jabotinsky, warned against the imminent destruction facing our nation, but they were widely criticized and their warnings were disregarded, and they were treated as merchants of doom and war mongers.
- So I ask: How is it possible that so many people failed to understand the reality? The bitter and tragic truth is this: it is not that they did not see it. They did not want to see it. And why did they choose not to see the truth? Because they did not want to face the consequences of that truth.
- During the 1930’s, when the Nazis were gaining momentum, the influence of the trauma of the First World War was still fresh. Twenty years earlier, the people of the West experienced a terrible trench war, a war which claimed the lives of 16 million people. Therefore, the leaders of the West operated on the basis of one axiom: avoid another confrontation at any cost, and thus they laid the foundation for the most terrible war in human history. This axiom of avoiding conflict at any cost, this axiom was adopted not only by the leaders. The people themselves, primarily the educated ones, shared it too….
- Month after month, year after year, more and more information was received in London, Paris and Washington regarding the capabilities and intentions of the Nazi regime. The picture was becoming clear to everybody. However, “they have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear.”
- When you refuse to accept reality as it is, you can deny it. And this is precisely what the leaders of the West did. They dismissed the murderous Nazi rhetoric as internal German politics; they downplayed the seriousness of the danger of the military build-up of the Nazis, claiming that it was the result of the natural will of a proud nation, that it should be taken into consideration, that it should be accepted.
- The reality was clear, but it was cloaked in a bubble of illusions. This bubble was burst by the stealth attack by the Nazis on Europe. And the price of the illusion and desire was very heavy because by the time the leaders of the West finally acted, their people paid a terrible price. World War II claimed the lives not of 16 million people, the unimaginable number of victims during World War I, but of 60 million, including one third of our people, who were butchered by the Nazi beast.
HAS THE WORLD LEARNED THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST?
- Has the world learned from the mistakes of the past? Today, we are again facing clear facts and a tangible threat.
- Iran is calling for our destruction. It is developing nuclear weapons. This is the reason it is building underground bunkers for the enrichment of uranium. This is the reason it is establishing a plutonium-producing heavy water facility. This is the reason it continues to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads to threaten the entire world.
- Today, just like then, there are those who dismiss Iran’s extreme rhetoric as one that serves domestic purposes. Today, just like then, there are those who view Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the result of the natural will of a proud nation – a will that should be accepted. And just like then, those who make such claims are deluding themselves. They are making an historic mistake.
- We are currently in the midst of fateful talks between Iran and the world powers. This time too, the truth is evident to all: Iran is seeking an agreement that will lift the sanctions and leave it as a nuclear threshold state, in other words, the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons within several months at most.
- Iran wants a deal that will eliminate the sanctions and leave their nuclear capabilities intact. Such a deal, which will enable Iran to be a nuclear threshold state, will bring the entire world to the threshold of an abyss.
- I hope that the lessons of the past will be learned and that the desire to avoid confrontation at any cost will not lead to a deal that will exact a much heavier price in the future.
- I call on the leaders of the world powers to insist on a full dismantling of Iran’s capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, and to persist until this goal is achieved.
- In any event, the people of Israel are strong. When faced with an existential threat, the situation of our people today is entirely different than it was during the Holocaust.
- Today, we have a sovereign Jewish state. As Prime Minister of Israel, I do not hesitate to speak the truth to the world, even when faced with so many blind eyes and deaf ears. It is not only my right, it is my duty. It is a duty I am mindful of at all times, but particularly on this day, in this place.
- On the eve of the Holocaust, there were Jews who avoided crying out to the world’s nations out of fear that the fight against the Nazis would become a Jewish problem. Others believed that if they kept silent, the danger would pass. The kept silent and the disaster struck. Today, we are not afraid to speak the truth to world leaders, as is written in our Bible: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be ashamed…listen, for I will speak noble thoughts; the opening of my lips will reveal right things.”
- Unlike our situation during the Holocaust, when we were like leaves on the wind, defenseless, now we have great power to defend ourselves, and it is ready for any mission. This power rests on the courage and ingenuity of the soldiers of the IDF and our security forces. It is this power that enabled us, against all odds, to build the State of Israel.
- Look at the remarkable achievements we have made in our 66 years of independence. All of us together – scientists, writers, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, employees, artists, farmers – the entire people of Israel, each one in their own field – together we have built a glorious state. The spirit of the people of Israel is supreme, our accomplishments tremendous. Seven decades after the destruction of the Holocaust, the State of Israel is a global wonder.
- On this day, on behalf of the Jewish people, I say to all those who sought to destroy us, to all those who still seek to destroy us: you have failed and you will fail.