Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke Wednesday at the State's Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2022 at Yad Vashem.
I am holding in my hand a page of testimony.
For the younger generation, I will explain that a "page of testimony" is an official form created by Yad Vashem that describes the basic details of the life of a Jew murdered in the Holocaust. When that person was born, what they did, the name of their parents and family and how they were murdered.
Over the decades, those who filled out these pages of testimony were usually family members or friends who could reliably and accurately describe the details of that Jewish person who perished in the Holocaust.I would like to read you the details of this page of testimony.
Last name of the murdered: Reich.
First name: Unlisted.
Place of birth: Auschwitz.
Place of death: Auschwitz.
short of the circumstances of death: Taken from her mother in Auschwitz.
Age at death: Half an hour.
Details of the person filling out the page of testimony: Mother, Irene Reich.
My brothers and sisters, the Holocaust is an unprecedented event in human history. I take the trouble to say this because as the years go by, there is more and more discourse in the world that compares other difficult events to the Holocaust. But no. Even the most difficult wars today are not the Holocaust and are not comparable to the Holocaust.
No event in history, cruel as it may have been, is comparable to the Holocaust – the extermination of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Unfortunately, history is full of cruel wars, brutal murders and also genocide. But it is usually a means designed to achieve a goal, some sort of expectation - military, political, economic, religious. The case of the extermination of the Jews is different.
Never, in any place or during any time, has one people acted to destroy another in such a planned, systematic and indifferent way, from a place of absolute ideology and not out of utilitarianism. The Nazis did not kill Jews to take their jobs or their homes. The Nazis sought to hunt all Jews and exterminate every last one of them.
A Jew in the Holocaust had no way of escape. No way to surrender, nowhere to be expelled to, no way of escape by conversion or change of behavior. Nothing. Because the extermination was carried out based on if you were a Jew, regardless of your actions.
The Germans spared no effort to carry out their work. For example, in April 1944, a special Gestapo team was sent to distant hiking trails in the French Alps to capture and murder 20 Jewish children, the youngest only four years old. So much energy just to kill some children.
At the end of the war, Nazi Germany continued to exterminate Jews even when it took away energy and resources from their war effort.
What brought them to this? Why?
The Holocaust is the ultimate, absolute expression of thousands of years of antisemitism. And why is there anti-Semitism?
How is it that over 3,500 years ago Pharaoh decided to exterminate all Hebrew males? And a thousand years later, Haman wanted to exterminate all the Jews? And why did England, 700 years ago, expel or kill its Jews? And 500 years ago, Spain followed suit, and 350 years ago so too in Yemen?
What is the motive, what is the reason for all these events? The answer is that there is no common denominator and there is no reason.
Hate is an easy emotion to operate and inflame. This darkest aspect of the human psyche sometimes erupts in the form of blind hatred for the other. That if only they would disappear, all problems would be solved.
In each of its manifestations, antisemitism takes a different form, supposedly finding a different cause. Sometimes we are slaughtered because we Jews have different customs — kosher food, Shabbat, prayers — which has led many Jews to blend in the nations of the world and even assimilate. But even then, antisemites attacked Jews precisely because they assimilated into the environment and "defiled" their race.
The Jews are succeeding? It's a reason for antisemitism. The Jews are failing and the poor are rebellious? It's a reason for antisemitism. The Jews are a landless people, cut off from their land for generations? It's a reason to hate them. The Jews have established a successful and strong state? It's a reason to hate them.
Whenever we are tempted to believe that we have entered a new, liberal, modern era in which people no longer hold on to Jew hatred, reality awakens us to the truth.
What is the lesson? What should we do with this? My answer is clear:
Our critical imperative is to stand up for our own fate. Rely only on ourselves. To be strong and never apologize for our very existence or our success.
We have built a strong and prosperous Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The goal — which we have no choice but to meet — is that the State of Israel must be the strongest. Always. To have the strongest army, with the best air force, with the bravest fighters, with the most sophisticated Mossad and Israel Security Agency, and above all, with the deepest conviction in the righteousness of our path.
The State of Israel is strong. We are building bridges to new and old friends and deepening our alliances. But alongside our friends and allies near and far, we must remember a basic truth: We will only be able to exist in our country if we deepen our roots in our land.
The Holocaust took place after nearly two thousand years of exile. The Jewish people are similar to a plant that requires a certain type of land. The plant can maybe live and even somehow survive in another place, but if it wants to fully grow and blossom, it must be rooted in its own land.
The Jewish people can live in the Diaspora and dream about Jerusalem, but eventually, the genuine and natural existence of our people can only truly take place by our physical presence in our original homeland, here in the Land of Israel. Building this homeland is an obligation but also an enormous privilege for all of us.
This ceremony commences the events of Holocaust Remembrance Day and also marks the middle point of the three weeks of our national rebirth. This begins with Passover, which commemorates the birth of our nation, and continues next week with our national Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers and concludes with Israel's Independence Day.
The Jewish presence in the Land of Israel began nearly 4,000 years ago, and our every activity here in the State of Israel is an act of building and strengthening our land. Every home that we build, every baby that is born, every company that is established, every step that we take alongside our country's streams, every song written, every act of kindness made between a person and his friend is another brick in this magnificent building that is called the State of Israel.
Building the State of Israel, the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, is in fact our victory over those who sought to wipe us out. Let us all embrace and safeguard our country.
Finally, one last point that is especially important these days. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is rightfully considered to be the pinnacle of Jewish heroism – an impossible battle of a handful of Jews against many Germans. We all grew up on this legacy.
Less talked about was the tragic fact that the two Jewish organizations that fought the Germans did so not as one body but rather as two competing organizations which failed to cooperate amongst themselves. Those two organizations were the Jewish Military Union, that belonged to the right-wing revisionist movement, and the Jewish Fighting Organization, that belonged to the left-wing socialist movement.
Yes. My brothers and sisters, even during the darkest chapter of Jewish history, during our people's inferno of extermination, the left and the right did not find a way to work together. Each of these groups fought the Germans alone. I am trying to understand what ideological gap was so important that it was able to divide two Jewish organizations that were fighting such a desperate and heroic battle? What internal animosity justified such a division?
My brothers and sisters, we cannot, we simply cannot allow the same dangerous gene of factionalism dismantle Israel from within.
Today, thank G-d, in the State of Israel, we have one army, one government, one Knesset and one nation – the people of Israel. When we are united, no external enemy can beat us.
My brothers and sisters, may the memory of that Jewish baby girl who perished in the Holocaust even before she was given a name, together with the memory of the six million of our murdered brothers and sisters, be a blessing.