'I asked them: Why did you save us?'

Prof. Aharon Barak at Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony: 'Lesson is if we do not defend democracy, democracy will not protect us'

Mordechai Sones ,

Aharon Barak
Aharon Barak
Yossi Zamir, Flash 90

The annual ceremony marking Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day took place today at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Prof. Aharon Barak, former Supreme Court President and lecturer and senior researcher at the Radzyner School of Law at IDC Herzliya, who shared with the audience the story of his survival as a child during the Holocaust.

Barak was only 8 years old when his parents managed to smuggle him out of the Kovno ghetto, hidden in a sack of uniforms sent to Nazi soldiers. For half a year he hid with his mother in a double wall in the home of a Lithuanian peasant family, later recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Barak said that years later he and his family met with the children of the Lithuanian family: "I asked them: 'Why did you save us?' If you were caught, you would be shot to death ... How did your parents agree to risk this? And they replied: We do not understand your question. We are devout Christians and you needed help, so we helped you. I looked at my children and asked them: What would I have done then, and I did not have an answer. Every survivor has his story, and every such story is a miracle, or luck, depending on his outlook.

"Everyone can draw their conclusions from my story, and my lesson has never been hatred, revenge, or loss of faith in people. My lesson was the importance of the State of Israel, because if it existed even then, even if the Holocaust was unavoidable, things would have happened differently.

"Another lesson that my students are well aware of is the importance of human dignity. The Germans took our lives but could not take our honor. Therefore, I attach great importance to human dignity and human rights. Therefore, I attach great importance to national security, but also to protecting the rights of every person. And this is my main lesson to you: If we do not defend democracy, democracy will not protect us."