President Rivlin inspects honor guard in Ukraine
President Rivlin inspects honor guard in UkrainePhoto: Haim Zach / GPO

President Reuven Rivlin today (Tuesday) addressed a special plenary of the Ukrainian Parliament marking 75 years since the Babi Yar Massacre. The address was part of a State Visit to Ukraine by President Rivlin which began earlier this morning with the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Kiev, and at the Holodomor memorial. The President and First Lady Rivlin were received by President and First Lady Poroshenko at an official welcome ceremony which included an honor guard and military parade, a 21 gun salute, and the playing of both national anthems.

The two Presidents then went on to hold a working meeting after which they delivered media statements.

President Rivlin said, “The blood of our brothers and sisters, that was spilled at that dark time, places upon us the duty to remember, and teach the whole world, about the dangers of not just anti-Semitism, but of all hatred, and all racism. While we mourn the past, we must also speak about the present, and look to the future."

He continued, "We are near to 25 years of diplomatic relations. This is a chance to celebrate our cooperation and make fresh commitments to work together for the benefit of both our peoples. Ukraine has recently seen great changes, becoming a beacon of democratic values. These are also the values which lead my democratic nation, Israel. I see my visit to the Ukraine as an important opportunity to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to express appreciation to you Mr. President and to Prime Minister Groysmann, as fighters for reforms in energy, and in public service.”

He finished by saying, “I want to conclude by sending from here my prayers for the health of my friend Shimon Peres. My thoughts are with Israel’s Ninth President Shimon Peres who is fighting for his life at these very moments. The President was a guest of honor in this house and a friend of the Ukrainian people, and saw the great importance of strengthening the ties between the states. In his last visit here, the Ninth President worked to further the trade agreement between Israel and Ukraine, and to deepen the cooperation between the two states. In the name of the Israeli people, and people around the world we pray for his recovery.”

Rivlin with Ukrainian President Poroshenko
Rivlin with Ukrainian President PoroshenkoPhoto: Haim Zach / GPO

Later, President Rivlin was received at the special plenary of the parliament.

The President said in his address, “Kayla Mintz was born in 1907 to Reyzl and Alexander Mintz in the town of Bilozir, Ukraine. In 1925 at the age of 20 she received an entry permit to Israel and achieved her dream of becoming a farmer and working the land that she felt so strongly about. In the years to come she married Menachem Shulman, who was born in the town of Marina Gorka, in Ukraine, and after wandering the land together, the settled in Moshav Herut together with other friends from Ukraine. There they had two daughters, Varda and Nechama, my wife. Kayla, left her entire family back in Ukraine - her sisters, her brother, and her father. Life in Israel was difficult, and she innocently thought that her family was spoiled and wouldn’t be able to stand the difficulties in living in Israel. That is why she never bothered to persuade them to emigrate to Israel. Following the beginning of Operation Barbarossa by German forces, Bilozir was captured in July 1941 by the Nazis. Already within the first week of occupying the town, several Jewish girls were publicly executed. In mid-August 1942 the city's Jews were taken, along with the rest of the Jews from Laniwci Ghetto, to the killing pits on the way leading to Kremenets, and were murdered there. With your permission, I will mention the names of my wife's aunts and uncles, and their children: Aunt Cilla (nee Mintz), her husband and children. Aunt Mania (nee Mintz), her husband and children. Uncle Dov Mintz, his wife and children. Uncle Daniel Mintz, His wife and children. In the town of Marina Gorka, in today's Belarus, my wife's uncles were murdered. Her father Menachem Shulman's brothers Jacob, Moses, Samuel and Israel Shulman. May they rest in peace.”

He continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, every year we mark Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel and around the world by reading out the names of the victims, "Everyone has a name". But there are names, there are many names, that we will never know, despite incessant efforts to locate them. My wife's cousins - children, toddlers, infants, and babies, are left unnamed. There is no one in the world who knows the name. They were once here but are no longer among us. Many thousands of Jews who were shot, butchered, slaughtered, burnt and buried alive in Babi Yar also have no name. They became extinct under the sky – without anyone bothering to register their names. They are anonymous. Then, as now – it was autumn. The valley was green. A hand squeezed the trigger, again and again. More than 33,000 Jews were killed over two days, in a cruel and brutal death.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not describing this difficult image in order to shock you. I am telling you these stories because Babi Yar saw not only the murder of tens of thousands of people; Jews, Ukrainians, Romani, and other non-Jewish groups at the hands of the Nazis, with the help of their Ukrainian collaborators, but at Babi Yar the Nazis sought to forget, to deny, to erase, to conceal, and to obscure the horror and the evidence. The valley saw two horrific sins. The first sin was the sin of murder and destruction. The second sin was the sin of concealment and destruction of the memory. The second sin was no less systematic nor relentless than the first – it was as comprehensive as the massacre itself. Beginning in July 1943, the SS received an order to conceal all the evidence of the murder from the mass graves. By then the number of the murdered had risen to more than 150,000 in Babi Yar. The order given to the 1005 Unit was clear: to hide the evidence. They first began by removing the bodies burnt at the stake. Then they crushed the bones and scattered the ashes to find any gold or silver. The despoilment was so efficient that the cruelly despicable massacre was almost erased from the pages of history.”

He noted, “Many years after, when the Nazis had long disappeared from here, and the war had ended, there still was not a memorial at Babi Yar. The victims of Babi Yar were twice, twice to be erased from the face of the earth, in their lives and after their deaths. I have many times asked myself why the Nazis invested so much in defacing and obscuring the evidence. It seems they were afraid of justice, but today I am confident that the despoilment of the evidence was part of the destruction. Had the Nazis succeeded in destroying the memory, the Final Solution would have truly been final.”

President Rivlin addressing the Ukrainian Parliament
President Rivlin addressing the Ukrainian ParliamentHaim Zach / GPO

He went on to stress, “the sin of the destruction has already been carried out. We cannot bring the dead back to life. We will never know all their names, who they were, what were their dreams and thoughts as they were marched to their deaths. But we must not, we must not be partners in the second crime. We must not play a part in the sin of forgetting or denial. Around 1.5 million Jews were murdered in the territory of modern-day Ukraine during the Second World War; in Babi Yar, and in many other places of murder. They shot them in the valleys, in the woods, into pits, into mass graves. Many of the collaborators were Ukrainian, among the most notorious the members of the OUN who carried out pogroms and massacres against the Jews and in many cases handed them over to the Germans. It is true, there were more than 2,500 Righteous Among The Nations, lone candles who shone in the darkness of humanity. Yet the majority remained silent.”

The President went on to say, “The relationship between the Jewish and Ukrainian peoples are today focused on the future, yet the history – both good and bad – must never be forgotten. We must recognize anti-Semitism as it was and as it is found today, and not rehabilitate or glorify anti-Semites. No interest can ever justify silence, apathy, or hesitation in the face of anti-Semites. And national leaders who support anti-Semitic, racist, or neo-Nazi ideas will not be welcomed as friends among the family of nations.”

He noted, “the Jewish people have a long history interwoven with Ukraine. In Kiev, in Lvov, in Odessa, and in many other cities spread across Ukraine. Here a large part of the Jewish people lived for more than 1000 years. Here, a bastion of world Jewish culture was created. Here they influenced and were influenced by the neighbors living around them, the people of Ukraine. Here on Ukrainian soil two of the most important modern Jewish movements grew and flourished; Hassidism and Zionism. Here some of the greatest of the Jewish figures grew and worked; the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Ahad Ha’am, and my ideological teacher Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“I believe in complete faith that our future is up to us learning the lessons of the past, dealing with the past, teaching tolerance, love for one’s fellow man, and democracy. And to my pleasure, I don’t stand here in a minority. Ukraine today is sending the world a different message. Ukraine is proving by actions and words its deep desire for change and reforms. I am filled with appreciation for Ukraine, for the democratic rule which it proudly upholds, despite the challenges it faces – security and economic. I am filled with appreciation for this distinguished parliament which expresses the living spirit of Ukrainian democracy, and I am honored to stand and speak before you as a partner and a friend.”

The President said, “Friends, this year we will complete 25 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Ukraine. Your Excellency President Poroshenko, during your visit to Israel a number of agreements in the fields of trade and economy were signed between Israel and Ukraine, and our policies are working to increase trade, and toward a free trade agreement. We are expanding our cooperation in science, in technology, in culture and tourism. Already today, the trade between our countries stands at more than a billion dollars, and it is important that we grow this, and to ease this growth remove bilateral barriers to trade. There is already no prior visa requirement to visit Israel, there are more and more flights, and the distance is quite short. We invite the Ukrainian people to come and see, to get to know firsthand the State of Israel and its citizens.”

He concluded, “The State of Israel believes in the close connection between freedom, democracy, and prosperity. Freedom is a condition of prosperity, and prosperity is a condition of freedom. Over the years, the State of Israel has been forced to defend its freedom, and at the same time to prosper successfully. The challenges are not easy – just this year, we have faced the challenge of ongoing terrorism and have been exposed to the to threats whether from extremist Islamists such as IS, Hamas, or Hezbollah - who relentlessly test our readiness – or whether from hostile states key among them Iran. But we remain insistent not to surrender freedom, not to surrender life, not to surrender prosperity. That which we wish for ourselves, we wish for our friends the Ukrainians; freedom, real democracy, and true prosperity. Israel knows that the path upon which Ukraine walks is not easy. Israel knows that Ukraine faces difficulties and challenges. In this difficult time, we support the Ukrainian Government’s courage to enact important reforms in social and economic fields. Israel is helping and will continue to help Ukraine to advance toward a better future. I want to express my hope, here, that a peaceful solution will quickly be found to the conflict which is on your people. I know how important this is for you to ensure a future of peace, prosperity, and security for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”