Address by Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel at the March of the Living, Holocaust Memorial Day, May 2, 2019 – Auschwitz-Birkenau
"My dear maman, we left Drancy yesterday and now I am in the train… they say the trip will last for three days…" this is how the last letter of twenty-year-old Annette Goldberg begins. It was written to her mother Esther and thrown out of the cattle car on September 18, 1942. Annette was my father's cousin. The train took her from Drancy Camp near Paris to Auschwitz-Birkenau where her life ended. Here, on this cursed ground, by the horrific Nazi machine that slaughtered six million Jews.
I stand here before you as the son of Chaim Herzog who landed with the British forces in Normandy to liberate Europe only two years later, in the summer of 1944. He crossed the River Rhine in one of the most challenging battles of the war, reaching Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. He recalled to me that as he entered the camp, the smell was unbearable. Bodies and skeletons were piled up outside the crematorium, people were lying in manure and vomit, typhoid all over. The scenes were inhumane and unimaginable. As a young British officer he walked toward the living skeletons and said to them in Yiddish: “I am a Jew, I am from Eretz-Israel, I came to rescue you.” Some reacted in fear thinking he might be another Nazi manipulating them. A few days later, on Friday evening, he led the prayers for those who survived the horror.
Decades later, my father who became a General in the Israel Defense Forces, the Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations and the sixth President of the State of Israel, attended ceremonies at Bergen-Belsen and here at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. At both sites, he placed stones from the Jerusalem hills – unfortunately, the stone he placed here outside Barrack 27 has been removed and placed in storage. As my father placed the stones, he quoted Psalm 38: "And my pain is ever with me" (וּמַ֜כְאוֹבִ֗י נֶגְדִּ֥י תָמִֽיד). Yes, the pain will stay with us Jews forever. And it must stay with all of humanity forever. It must serve as our guiding light in the fight against antisemitism and against all forms of hatred.
From this place, I call on world leaders to fight the rampant anti-Semitism erupting the world over, especially the shocking and dramatic rise of hate crimes against Jews in Europe. It cannot be that 74 years after this wretched war, Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe. Jews cannot be murdered in Pittsburgh and San Diego or anywhere! Let us heed the warning and take to heart the lessons of the Holocaust. World leaders must unite in zero tolerance for hate crimes, of any kind.
I stand here before you as the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land of Israel who went on a rescue mission all over Europe to save Jewish children. He knocked on doors of churches, monasteries and orphanages, appealing to the Pope and church leaders. Eventually, he rescued thousands of children whom he identified as Jewish after whispering to them the "Sh’ma Israel" prayer. He brought them back to their ancient homeland and to this day I meet them and am shaken to my core at the thought of what they endured as children.
I stand here before you as the chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, the Sochnut, the organization that founded the State of Israel and works on behalf of the Jewish people the world over – working to secure the safety, wellbeing and identity of the Jewish people. I am proud to be here, leading a group of our staff and lay leaders as we carry on this mission from generation to generation. As you may know, The Jewish Agency is the organization from which David Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel, only three years after the end of the atrocities of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I stand here before you on behalf the Jewish people, our great nation that believes in Tikkun Olam, in repairing the world. Meaning - making the world a better place. Even after suffering the worst atrocity of humankind, we remain committed to Tikkun Olam. The miraculous innovations coming out of Israel are testimony to this commitment. The other week, a group of groundbreaking Israeli scientists used a 3-D printer to recreate a heart. And I said to myself - it is no coincidence that the first organ they managed to print is the heart. We need a good heart in the body and soul of our people. A heart that will help us continue to shine a light on humanity and strive to make the world a better place. We need a good, new heart in the leadership of humanity. A heart that fights against evil, everywhere. This is the true meaning of the March of the Living and our duty as the living!
I’d like to conclude, from this place, with the prayer my grandfather wrote for the wellbeing of the State of Israel, as we are reminded of the just cause of Israel’s right to exist as the only nation state of the Jewish people:
אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ. הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ
Our Father in heaven, protector and redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of your love; and spread over it thy canopy of peace.