'Europe cannot free itself from its ghosts'

Justice Minister addresses March of the Living, recalling how the entire world abandoned the Jews in the Holocaust.

Yoni Kempinski,

Ayelet Shaked and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau at Auschwitz
Ayelet Shaked and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau at Auschwitz

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) took part in the March of the Living on Thursday for Holocaust Memorial Day, marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau in a somber trip between the death camps.

Shaked addressed the event, which was attended by 10,000 people, and her speech was as follows:

On my way here, I struggled for words fit to be said in this place.

The Holocaust raises for many of us many questions.

Perhaps the most fitting perspective with respect to the Holocaust is that reflected in the phrase coined by Professor Shalom Rosenberg:

"The evil of the world declared the Jew as its enemy on earth, and since that day, every Jew must ask himself – in what way am I the enemy of evil?"

I stand here, in Birkenau, a factory of death, where over 1 million Jews were murdered; where women, children, the elderly, young men and boys met with horrific and bizarre deaths.

We must remember that among the millions of victims of the Holocaust, not all were murdered in the concertation camps – many perished through cruel deaths in ghettos, were murdered by firing squads over death pits or poisoned in gas trucks;

babies killed in their mothers' arms and other forms of abuse that the mind cannot grasp and that words cannot articulate.

We remember those who perished and grieve their loss – 6 million women, children, seniors and boys, whose only sin was to be born Jewish.

We rightfully focus on the victims, but I'd like to talk about the murderers for a moment.

Given that we cannot comprehend the cruel and criminal acts perpetrated, we tend to say that the Nazis were beasts.

By labeling them as inhuman, we attempt to somehow define and explain.

The truth is that we cannot qualify these murderers as beasts because even animals do not do such things.

The incomprehensible evil committed by Nazi war criminals is pure human evil supported by theories, a cultural background and rational decisions.

They were not members of fringe groups of German society, but rather its elite, its most dignified members, the creme de la creme of society.

The inability to comprehend, which I spoke of earlier, nevertheless begs asking a number of pressing questions, in a loud voice and without fear.  

There were many accomplices to the crimes, within German society as well as in other countries that played a role in the Holocaust.

Some accomplices held weapons in their hands, others merely hid under their tables.

Some were in the forests, others in the ghettos;

some in concentration camps, others in extermination camps;

some wore a physician’s white coat or a judge's robe, others simply orchestrated propaganda.

This was a methodical and organized murder industry driven by a clear ideology.

Azriel Carlebach, an Israeli journalist and thinker, wrote:

"They did not kill them because the Jews were weaker than them, but because they were better than them.  

They abused newborns without the ability to speak, because a Jewish's baby's gaze, from birth, radiates with the imprint of justice and blinds they eyes of evildoers.

They burst into attics, because that is where innocent children learned Torah in a strangled voice, because as long as that voice is heard in the world, Satan cannot lie peacefully.

Judenrein – the cities must be completely empty so that impurity can fill them.

The British historian Ian Kershaw, in his book "The End", attempts to understand why, towards the end of the war, when it was clear to Germany that it had no chance of prevailing and that the end was closer than ever – why it continued to hunt for Jews until the bitter end?

Nazi rule saw itself as liberating humankind from Jewish ethics and from a Jewish presence in the world, and was prepared to sacrifice its own people to that end.

To illustrate, in 1944, on the eve of the German defeat, the Germans attempted to send hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, in order to have them exterminated. The notorious death marches did not cease to operate until the very last moment.

One of the survivors who is here with us, Ed Mosberg, told me that the German collected all of the woman, including his sisters, in the camp and shot them all the day before the camp was liberated. 

So, how can we be the enemy of evil?

The March of the Living that we have just completed – that is the ultimate response. Am Israel Chai!!!!

And here in Birkenau, another key question – no less painful – arises: where was the world?!

Where were the enlightened Western nations when the Nazis started to brutalize the Jews?

Where were the armies of modern nations?

How could Britain choose not to bomb the tracks of the death trains in Europe, while at the same time deny Jews entry into the land of Israel, and even expel others from Israel to their impending death at sea?

So much evil and folly of mind in the world's actions and inaction!

While the crematories were operating at full speed right here, and the train tracks that led to it, were within certain range of the allies' planes.

Such imperviousness of the heart to do nothing and to fail to reach out to the hopeless Jewish people.

In 1944, the allies enjoyed absolute supremacy in the skies of Europe.

Some of the strikes were intended to destroy German fuel-making installations, tens of kilometers away from Auschwitz.

Holocaust survivors recount that they heard the allies' planes, and prayed that these would end their misery.

It is difficult for me to think of their terrible frustration when they realized that planes were flying further and further away.     

Hitting the train tracks would have stopped the shipments of hundreds of thousands to their deaths. Bombing the camps themselves would have put a stop to the killing spree. Hundreds of combat flights, hundreds of strikes against military targets, and it was not possible to dedicate just a few of those to stopping the extermination? I simply cannot comprehend it. 

There is no way to go around it – the entire world deserted the Jews.

Today, I can say with pride that we are no longer at the mercy of the world, Jewish blood will never be forsaken again.

Even today we witness a modern form of anti-Semitism.

Transfer of the Jews to "resettlement in the east", has morphed in recent years, as we heard just a few days ago (from a British Labor MP), into proposals to transfer the State of Israel to the west.

History has taught us that the forced transfer of Jews from one place in the world to another has led to the next stage.

The stage where it is quickly suggested that the Jew has no place at all in the world.    

We are seen as belonging neither here nor there –

roaming the land – and whoever finds us – kills us.

Hatred of Israel has become hatred of the State of Israel, but beyond this, nothing has changed.

In the past, there were calls in Europe – "Jew, go away to Palestine" – today, they are calling in Europe – "Jew, get away from Palestine".

Europe of seventy years ago, which was a product of many generations of classic and popular anti-Semitism spread across the whole of society for ages,  "Judeophobic" Europe, that Europe might be dead.

However, the new Europe is not able to free itself from its ghosts of the past.

They continue to haunt Europe without respite.

The old Europe, so to speak, is unwilling under any circumstance to release its grip on the new Europe.

I would like now to read a letter written by the late Ofer Finger, from Kibbutz Givat Haim, who fell in the battle of the Paratroopers on Armament Hill in 1967:

"I can feel with all of my soul the horrors of that terrible Holocaust.

I feel that from that horror and helplessness emerges the power within me to be strong; I want to know that never again will vacant eyes stare at me from behind electric fences! They will never look at me like that only if I am strong! If we are all strong, proud! Never again be to lead to our own slaughter.

Ofer signifies in my eyes the rise of Israel. Ofer lost his life while protecting the national home of the Jewish people from the Arab armies which sought to destroy it.

Sovereign Jewish protection, instead of helplessness and hope for outside help.

Many in Europe, even in modern Europe of 2016, are willing to accept the Jew in one role and one role only: that of a victim. A perpetual victim.

A strong and thriving State of Israel, one which wins its wars and overtakes its enemies, is a state which for many in Europe is difficult to except.

Does such a State have a place in the world? Does it have a right to exist?

Here in Birkenau I will say this:

the existence of the State of Israel is justified in every moment! Even when it enjoys, as we do today, a time of prosperity. Even in days of great strength.

Dear students from around the world,

In the spirit of the Passover Hagada,

the Holocaust survivor and poet, Abba Kovner, added:

"in each and every generation a person must see himself as if he himself left Auschwitz.

In the name of that commitment, we must face reality with open eyes; see the opportunities, but also the dangers.

We must remember that even today there are calls to exterminate the Jewish people.

We must remember that even today anti-Semitism is still living and breathing, sowing seeds of death.

From this place, I call upon you and upon all the countries which you represent here: study the lessons of the most terrible of horrors and do not let their seeds sprout again.

Fight anti-Semitism and hatred of man in whatever form they might take and do whatever it takes to prevent feeding the violence which repeatedly hangs above our heads.      

I hereby vow, on behalf of the Government of Israel - never again!

 Never again will the lives of Jews be at risk while the world stands idly by.

The people of Israel have risen from the ashes of doom and established a country to be admired and esteemed.

 A country which sets a moral bar for the entire world.

In the spirit of Ezekiel's prophecy:

"I hereby provide you with a new heart, and a new spirit I will bring unto you".

Armed with this precious gift and this great power we will continue to work towards building a better and advanced society, which shall seek to enlighten for the entire world.

This is our commitment to our six million brothers and sisters.

This is the way to light the next step in the March of the Living of the People of Israel.

Long Live the People of Israel - Am Yisral Chai