President Herzog at Yad Vashem
President Herzog at Yad VashemYad Vashem

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke Wednesday at the State's Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2022 at Yad Vashem.

"There are moments in which a single photograph, in black and white, tells the whole story and echoes all the words that could be said," Herzog began. "I stand here before you, carrying with me, etched on my heart, such a photograph. It is a rare photograph, which nobody who sees it can ever forget."

"The eyes see, the mind grasps, yet the soul refuses to believe that what appears in black and white is in fact blacker than black."

He continued, "It is not a photograph about big numbers, about thousands, tens of thousands, or millions. It is a photograph of a single Jewish family. A family executed by diabolical Nazi jackboots and their collaborators."

"A mother and her children on the edge of a pit. Rifle butts touching her back. We cannot see the woman's face, nor her children's. A moment before her body collapses into the pit of death, she bends over her infant children. And in a single moment, all the rifles send up a plume of smoke.

"They shoot her together, not making do with a single bullet. Coordinated. Efficient. One child slips beneath her. With her last ounces of strength, the mother grasps her little boy's hand, sitting on his knees barefoot, on soil drenched with blood.

"What did the mother whisper in her little boy's ear? Did she beg him not to cry? And what of the child? Did he cry? Did he stay silent? Did he understand? Was he afraid? The photograph is silent, but its voice cries out. It shakes us. It stuns us to silence.

"Do not murder." (Exodus 20:13)

"Do not raise your hand against the boy." (Genesis 11:12)

"Do not take the mother together with her young." (Deuteronomy 22:1)

"Do not slaughter it on the same day with its young." (Leviticus 22:28)

"This photograph was taken on 13 October 1941. When I saw it in a book by the historian Dr. Wendy Lower, a book about this photograph, and this photograph alone, I felt my entire essence being turned upside down inside me with grief, with fury, with pain."

Herzog added, "These atrocities unfolded in many cities and towns, too many to count, in all of which the sun rose over the valley. Birds chirped. The forests were silent. And the butcher? He butchered and butchered and butchered."

Addressing the Holocaust survivors, heroes of the resurrection, families and succeeding generations, and the officials present, he continued, "Throughout the Holocaust of European Jewry, babies, girls and boys, women, the elderly, and men were led to the pits of death and massacred."

"Like the mother and her little boy, they left behind neither a name nor a memory. 'Like sheaves behind the reaper,' fell the Jews into the pit, 'with none to pick them up' (Jeremiah 9:21).

"The mass killing of the Jewish People, mankind's darkest hour, started thus, with what would in time be called the, 'Holocaust by bullets.' Later, the insatiable Nazi predator accelerated this process of extermination until it reached monstrous proportions. Millions of our people were tortured, murdered, massacred by the most frightful mechanism of evil that humankind has ever known.

"My sisters and brothers, three years after the camp gates were opened, the survivors of the Holocaust became the heroes of the resurrection. They became our standard, our example, our symbol.

"The State of the Jews arose as a lighthouse expressing the victory of light over darkness and promising that never again will a Jewish child hide in a dark and isolated cellar from those who want him dead. Never again will parents be torn apart from their children and sent on their final steps, simply because they are Jews. And never, ever, will depraved murderers stand behind a Jewish family, shoot them, and dispatch them into the valley of death."

The President emphasized, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Jewish response to history is the injunction: Remember! Memory not only of sterile science, nor of archival documents, but first of all, fundamentally, profound, existential memory, which gives history its meaning. Memory of the sort that is reflected in every walk of life, that makes us grow, that builds us as a nation, that makes us better, more worthy."

"Our beloved Holocaust survivors, your memory is our memory, and the task of bequeathing it falls to all of us. It is we who bear the duty to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to hand them down, from generation to generation.

"We stand no chance, nor have we any justification as a people and as a state, if we do not remember forever what happened to our people, in the ghettos, in the basements of the Gestapo, in the execution pits, in the death trains, in the extermination camps, in the crematoria, and in every other place where the image of humanity was lost and no trace of compassion survived.

"And besides all this, we must prove, first and foremost to ourselves, that it is not only history that binds us as a people, and that our shared future is a firm foundation for deepening connections between us, no less so than our past. We must continue building our nation such that it will flourish, grow, and rise to every challenge.

"We must act in a cohesive and determined manner in the face of terrorism and hatred, led by states and organizations against us, and fortify Israel's independence as an iron wall defending us against our enemies."

"Casting doubt on Israel's right to exist is not legitimate diplomacy but pure antisemitism, which must be uprooted," Herzog emphasized. "We must continue fighting against ugly expressions of antisemitism, which is returning to rear its head in many places in the world, including on social media. And we must make clear that even today, eight decades after the darkest abyss in the annals of human history, the antisemitism threatening our people is a crime against humanity."

"Our dear Holocaust survivors, even as your numbers dwindle, our obligations toward you only grow, and they must be seen and heard from every edge of the earth. You are the pillar of fire before our camp. You provide us with inspiration and hope, and you instill in us faith in the righteousness of our cause and in our willingness to move forward.

"Citizens of Israel, I began my remarks tonight with a photograph, and I end with another photograph, which also echoes all the words that could be said. On my desk, in the office of the President of the State of Israel, is only one photograph, which shocks everyone who sees it. It is another photograph that nobody who sees it can ever forget. In the middle of the picture is the late Dora Dreibelt-Eisenberg, born in Lodz, prisoner number 55374 from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Together with her, her little great-granddaughter, Daniella Har Zvi. Here too, the woman's face is out of sight, and so is the face of her great-granddaughter. The little girl holds her great-grandmother's arm. The Israeli flag touches their hands.

"This photo too, taken by Karen Gillerman, clearly tells the whole story: The story of the Jewish People and its rebirth. The story of the Land of Israel and its settlement. The story of the chain of generations, and the story of the State of Israel, our beloved country, which is the most profound expression of the Prophet Ezekiel's vision of dry bones.

"As the Bible says: 'Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel… I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil.' (Ezekiel 37:12-14)

"Earth, do cover not their blood! May the memory of our brothers and sisters, victims of the Holocaust, be blessed and bound in the heart of the nation, from generation to generation, for evermore," he concluded.