Peres to German Lawmakers: 'Bring Nazis to Justice'

Israel's president urged German lawmakers Wednesday to bring the last Nazi criminals to justice as era of the Holocaust begins to close.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 13:25

President Shimon Peres with Berlin mayor
President Shimon Peres with Berlin mayor
Israel news photo: Amos Ben Gershom

President Shimon Peres stood before the Bundestag, German parliament Wednesday, exhorting the lawmakers to bring to justice those Nazi murderers who yet remain alive. “This is not revenge in our eyes,” Peres explained in his speech in Hebrew, delivered during ceremonies marking International Holocaust Memorial Day. “This is an educational lesson.”

The date, January 27, also marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation by Allied forces of the inmates at the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.

“Today, the International Remembrance Day for the victims of the Holocaust is the day on which the sun shone for the first time 65 years ago, after six evil years, its rays revealing the full extent of the destruction of my people,” Peres noted. “The world awoke to the fact, somewhat too late, that six million Jews were no longer among the living.”

Peres pointed out that 11 million Jews had been marked for death, among those his own grandfather, who was also murdered in the Holocaust:

“I can see in my mind's eye, at this very moment, the imposing image of my deeply respected grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, handsome and dignified. I was blessed to have been his beloved grandson. He was my guide and mentor. He was the one who taught me Torah.

"I see him with his white beard and dark eyebrows, enveloped in his prayer shawl, among the congregation praying in the synagogue, in the town where I was born, Vishniev in Belarus. I wrapped myself in the folds of his prayer shawl, and with much emotion listened to his clear and lovely voice.  It is still ringing in my ears...

"I still remember him at the train station from which I, an 11-year-old child, started on my journey from my village to Eretz Israel. I remember his poignant embrace. I remember the last words and the order that I heard from his mouth: 'My boy, always remain a Jew!' The train whistled and started on its way. I continued watching my grandfather until he disappeared from sight. “That was the last time I saw him,” Peres told the German parliamentarians.

Peres went on to tell the lawmakers how his grandfather died at the hands of Nazis who burned the entire Jewish community to death inside the village synagogue. “When the Nazis came to Vishniev, they ordered all the members of the community to congregate in the synagogue. My grandfather marched in front, together with his family, wrapped in the same Tallit [prayer shawl] in which I enveloped myself as a kid. The doors were locked from the outside and the wooden structure was torched. And the only remains of the whole community were embers. There were no survivors,” he related somberly.

“To which extent can a people that knew culture and respected intellect remain silent?” he asked.

“The Nazis tried to forget, and induce others to forget, the values of justice and mercy. The murder of Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany should not be seen as a kind of astrophysical “Black Hole” that ingests the past as well as the future,” he warned.

Peres also praised the “new Germany,” however, reminding that Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion said, “With it we have to discuss the future, not only the past.” He noted that restitution payments from Germany have helped in Israel's economic recovery and “contributed to its accelerated development,” and thanked the German people. “David Ben-Gurion, who predicted a different Germany, was right.”

Peres added that Israel's own national goals are not different. “Our national ambition is distinct and clear, to make peace with our neighbors. Israel supports the principle of the 'two-state solution'. We paid a price in wars, we did not hesitate to also pay a price for peace,” he said.

However, he warned, the Iranian regime, “a fanatic regime which contradicts the United Nations Charter and threatens destruction,” which looms on the horizon, is “a danger to the entire world.”

Israel's president told the German lawmakers that regardless of its threats on the Jewish State, Iran “will not divert [Israel's] heart from peace.”