In a speech at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that the Jewish people will never again remain undefended against its enemies. Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is the first Chief of Staff to lead a delegation of IDF officers on the annual March of the Living from Poland to Israel.
Approximately 12,000 people took part in the event this year, most of them young Jews from Israel and around the world. Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi reminded them, "A people which does not know or honor its past, shrouds its future in uncertainty." As for the Jews, he said, "We have learned our lesson. We take threats of leaders calling for the destruction of Israel very seriously."
Addressing the assembled delegations, the Chief of Staff noted that it was Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, and said, "With hundreds of witnesses in uniform by my side - joining the thousands of representatives of the IDF who come here every year, commanders of the ground forces, the Air Force and the Navy - the defending force of the Jewish people, reborn in its land - with tight lips, a coarse voice and tears in my eyes, yet still standing tall - I salute to the ashes of our people and vow: Never Again."
Speaking for himself and in the name of his fellow officers, Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi continued, "We consider ourselves the executor of the last will and testament, the dream and the silent prayer of our six million Jewish brothers and sisters whose existence was brutally expunged by the Nazi oppressor."
Turning to "the nations of the world and their governments," Ashkenazi called on them to "learn the lesson of this most terrible horror, and let not its seeds sprout anew. Fight anti-Semitism and racism of any kind wherever they are, and do all that is necessary to prevent the propagation of the violence in all its forms."
The Chief of Staff continued:
"Sixty-three years have passed since the end of the most horrible war humankind has ever known. Sixty-three
I stand here with pride and honor and pledge: Never Again! Never again shall we stand helpless.
years after the atrocity. The Star of David is no longer a mark of disgrace, but a symbol and a sign of the resurrection of the Jewish people. As the commander of the Israel Defense Forces, the fighting force of the mighty Jewish State, I stand here with pride and honor and pledge: Never Again! Never again shall we stand helpless, crying for the mercy of others. Never again shall we beg to be defended. Never again shall we allow our sons and daughters, our parents and our grandparents to be erased from the face of the earth. Never again shall the frightened eyes of Jewish children look with ghastly dread through the barbed-wire fences of concentration camps. Never!
"We who have had the privilege of seeing the establishment and the blossoming of the State of Israel; we, who have been entrusted with the country's fate, know that if we had had our country then, in those somber days, the Holocaust of the Jewish people would not have taken place. We remember, and will never forget, that from the killing and the destruction, from the ashes and the despair, we have risen to establish not only the Jewish State, but the military force that will forever provide security for the Jewish people, protecting it from any future attempts of persecution, torture and destruction."
A Jewish State Must Not Be Taken for Granted
"These days, after sixty years of independence, the existence of an independent Jewish state is not a fact that should be taken for granted," Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi cautioned. "Even today, in our region of the world, voices are heard calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Even today, we have to continue the struggle for our right to maintain a national home and safe haven for the Jewish people in their land.
"I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle." -- Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi quoting Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commander Anielewicz.
"We have learned our lesson. We take threats of leaders calling for the destruction of Israel very seriously.
"From this sense of deep responsibility for our continued existence as a people in our land and for the continuity of our heritage, we have no choice but to continue the struggle. Since we are fighting for our very existence, we cannot afford to grow weary or be deterred in our struggle."
The Chief of Staff went on to quote Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, who wrote: "I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle."
"Two days ago," Ashkenazi added, "I laid a wreath and saluted at the doorstep of the bunker where he commanded the uprising at Mila 18 in Warsaw."
Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi concluded by saying, "Here on this cursed ground, from which still cry the voices of our slain brothers, and as commander of the Israel Defense Forces of the state of the Jewish people, I salute our six million brothers and sisters, who have been persecuted, deported, tortured and cruelly murdered, and swear that Jewish blood shall never again be spilled in vain!"