Rivlin at Yad Vashem:
'Anti-Semitism is permeating the heart of European leadership'

'Survivors, every one of you is a miracle, a symbol of life out of death, of hope and faith in life and the eternity of the Jewish people.'

President Reuven Rivlin ,

Hillel Meir/TPS

Brothers and sisters, Holocaust survivors.

Zalman Gradowsky was born in Poland in 1910. In December 1941 he was sent with his wife and family to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When they arrived the rest of the family was taken for extermination, while he was given the terrible task of Sonderkommando at Crematorium no. 4 at Birkenau. Zalman, a young Zionist, a Beitari one of the leaders of the Sonderkommando uprising put on his tallit every evening and said Kaddish for the memory of the victims who were burnt to ashes each day.

From the heart of hell, Zalman wrote a diary for the next generations. He buried the diary, of which only parts remain, which were discovered in the ruins of Crematorium no. 3 after the war. This is what he wrote to us from there, and I quote: “Come, citizen of the free world! You, who human morality and the law protect your existence and your security. Come, and I will tell you how modern crooksa nd low-down murderers have trampled on morality and defiled the laws of existence. Rise up, my friend, 0ut of the cozy and tranquil palaces where you shelter. Be brave and join me for a tour across Europe where Satan has come to power. Let me tell you, and prove to you with facts, how the master race, so cultured, has exterminated a weak and defenseless people, a people not trained for crime, the Jewish people. Take leave of your friends and acquaintances, because once you have seen the sadistic atrocity of this so-called cultured devil-people, you will surely wish to expunge your name from humanity or you will regret seeing the light of the world… Seek consolation amongst the cruel beasts of the field.” Thus wrote Zalman, before the Sonderkommandos barricaded themselves in the crematorium and rose up, powerless against the human beast

Eighty years have passed since that war broke out, when the systematic and calculated extermination of six million of our brothers and sisters was planned and carried out. In Europe in the 1930s, many people felt that the ground was shifting under their feet, that danger was approaching.

“Do you believe that democracy will win?” asked Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman from Holland when escape was still a possibility. Etty was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943 but her question remains with us.

With the end of the Second World War Europe rebuilt itself, particularly western Europe as a negative of the old Europe. The new Europe saw itself as a beacon of democracy and liberalism. The European community showed the whole world a future of open borders, of cooperation, of civil and human rights.

But today, 80 years after the outbreak of the Second World War, we need to look today’s reality straight in the eye. Today, Europe – like other parts of the world – Is changing once again. Today, Europe Is once again pursued by the ghosts of the past. Ideas of superiority, national purity, xenophobia, blatant anti-Semitism from left and right are hovering over Europe.

It is important to be clear: We are not in the 1930s; we are not on the brink of a second Holocaust or anything like it. But we cannot ignore the old-new anti-Semitism which is once more raising its head, fueled by waves of immigration, by economic crises, and by disillusionment with the political establishment.

And so, from the right and the hard left anti-Semitism is permeating the heart of European leadership and we see record levels of anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and in France. A third of Europe’s Jews say they avoid Jewish events for fear of their lives. There is a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Jews In the United States (and again, just last Shabbat, on the last day of Pesach). In eastern and western Europe, we see how racist and anti-Semitic movements and ideas are coming back to life, even taking their place in parliaments and governments.

Honored guests, I do not fear for us, for the State of Israel. The Jewish people is no longer weak. We are not powerless. The State of Israel is not only a stable democracy. We also possess great power - military, diplomatic and economic power. We will always defend ourselves, defend the State of Israel and be committed to the safety and security of Jewish communities around the world.

At the same time in a world like this, where the power of radical right and left, fundamental Islam and racists and anti-Semites is rising, I believe that the State of Israel needs to state its case clearly and precisely. Every country and society has the legitimate right and even the duty to choose its policy and to protect its identity. Not every right-wing party in Europe that believes in controlling immigration or in protecting its unique character is anti-Semitic or xenophobic. But political forces where anti-Semitism and racism are part of their language, their legacy or their ideology can never be our allies.

Whether anti-Semitism and racism takes the guise of discourse about immigration from the right or of discourse about human rights from the left, we must denounce it wherever it appears. We no longer need to ‘convince’ anyone that the weasel words of the anti-Zionist hard left that the only way Israel has the right to exist is by no longer being a Jewish State are anti-Semitic. More and more of our allies around the world see and understand that. There is no such thing as loving Israel and hating Jews, just like there is no such thing as loving Jews and hating Israel. The game is up. The masks have been torn off.

With the rise of neo-fascist and radical anti-Israel forces, we could find ourselves in a situation where important European allies are led by governments which include anti-Semitic elements or, God forbid, led by anti-Semitic leaders. In a case like this, particularly, Israel must speak in a clear and uncompromising voice. No interest and no consideration of realpolitik can justify a dishonorable alliance with racist groups or elements who do not acknowledge their past and their responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust.

If we are not clear and precise, how can we expect other nations to take the responsibility and educate their next generations to remember the Holocaust and its lessons? With the rise in anti-Semitic voices, I have recently approached world leaders to invite them to an international conference that will be held here at Yad Vashem next January, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here Jerusalem, together with presidents and heads of state, we will join forces in the uncompromising fight against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Holocaust denial.

Anti-Semitism in all forms, racism and xenophobia, are anathema to the values, principles and spirit upon which the State of Israel was established. We do not forget and we do not forgive. Our past must be the basis for our values, for our actions and for the alliances we make. That is our history and our heritage. It is also the great message of the Jewish people to the world: ‘Beloved are those created in God’s image; Beloved is Israel, that is called God’s children’ (Avot 3:14)

There is no contradiction between the love for the people, our love and commitment to our people, and our commitment and love for all humanity. ‘Beloved is Israel; Beloved are those created in God’s image’ is not just the lesson we learned from our painful history. It is the very root of our religion and our heritage. That is the most basic Jewish and human truth and that is the only response to the terrible beast that is within humans, the beast that Zalman Gorodowsky described in his diaries from the heart of the hell of the crematoria.

Brothers and sisters, Holocaust survivors. On 28 Iyar 5704, 21 May 1944 a Jewish baby girl was born in Slovakia. She was born a week before Shavuot and her parents called her Ruth. Ruti. Four months later, at Sukkot, Ruti was sent with her mother and sisters to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When nuns asked her mother to give her to them and to save her life, the mother refused. “If she lives, I will live. If I die, she will die,” she said. Ruti and her mother passed the selection. The Nazis tattooed her tiny arm with the number A2007038. For the next moths, Ruti survived wrapped in a headscarf under her mother’s prisoners’ shirt.

Ruti Levy survived. She was liberated with her mother on 27 January 1945 aged eight months. They came to Israel, to Akko. Ruti went to school, got an education, raised a family. She has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is with us here.

Holocaust survivors, each and every one of you is a miracle, A symbol of life out of death, of hope and faith in life and the eternity of the Jewish people which will forever move us.

May the memories of our brothers and sisters be in our hearts from generation to generation, and may their souls be forever bound up in the bond of life.