With Holocaust Remembrance Day being observed Wednesday evening and Thursday, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan tells Israel National News about his feelings observing Yom HaShoah for the first time as the Holocaust memorial’s chair.
“In some sense, it feels like my first Yom HaShoah in my first year in Israel back in 1971 when I arrived in Israel a few months earlier as a teenager,” Dayan says. “There are not many things that encapsulate it as much as the fact that you live in a Jewish state and the sirens sound in the entire country, the entire country coming to a standstill in order to remember the six million Jews that were massacred in the Holocaust.”
“Now I also have a feeling that I have the responsibility for Holocaust remembrance on my shoulders,” he adds. “I definitely feel the burden. I’m talking about leading Holocaust remembrance into a new era that unfortunately we are approaching for natural reasons. The number of survivors is dwindling and we have to prepare Holocaust remembrance for an era in which no actual witnesses will be among us.”
When asked about bringing international state officials and dignitaries to Yad Vashem and what his message is to them about the establishment of the State of Israel, Dayan says:
“The State of Israel was established in spit of the Holocaust, and not because of the Holocaust. If the Holocaust wouldn’t have occurred, we would be a much stronger, secure country with more Jews. I would prefer very much that before dignitaries come to Yad Vashem, they would visit for instance Theodor Herzl’s grave, because that is the reason Israel exists, our right over the land and the Zionist movement.”
He explains how he speaks to visiting dignitaries.
“I tell dignitaries that come to Israel – I did this morning with the president of the German Bundestag, which is a very sensitive thing – that yes, Israel is the guarantee that there will not be another Holocaust… that there will be no more St. Louises (a ship during the Holocaust full of Jewish refugees that was denied entry to the U.S, Canada and Cuba and forced to turn back to Europe) and if G-d forbid there is a St. Louis, it will have a safe haven port in Israel.”
Dayan will be taking part in the upcoming Arutz Sheva Jerusalem Conference in New York on May 22. What is his message?
“Unfortunately, politics today divides the Jewish people, religion divides the Jewish people. But Holocaust remembrance unites us. I would like other things to unite us but if those are the circumstances, it’s important for me to use that as a leverage for Jewish unity, which is extremely important. When I say Jewish unity, I mean not only within Israel or within the United States also between the two.”
When asked about the war in Ukraine and comparisons being made with the Holocaust, Dayan says that “indeed you can’t compare it, there is nothing similar to the Holocaust, not even other genocides.”
“There have been other genocides but the Holocaust is something much bigger, it is something that included the genocide but was much more. It was a complete machine of trying to erase the memory of the Jewish people. When we see what is happening in Ukraine, apparently there are war crimes in Ukraine being done, but not every war crime in a genocide and not every genocide in the Holocaust.”
Dayan explains why Yad Vashem felt the need to issue a statement condemning what is occurring in Ukraine.
“I believe that the six million Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust are entitled to an institution – Yad Vashem – that is dedicated exclusively to them. Nevertheless, we condemned the invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes being done there. The reason is twofold. One: because both Russians and Ukrainians dragged Holocaust rhetoric into the conflict, the ‘Nazification’ and things like that. And second, when the scenes of the crime are Kyiv and Kharkiv and Lviv, you cannot remain silent because those are our crime scenes in the Holocaust.”