Seventy eight years after the liberation from Auschwitz, International Holocaust Day was commemorated by the European Commission in Strasbourg. Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock delivered addresses adjacent to the monument dedicated to the memory of the victims. In attendance were state representatives of the European Commission alongside representatives from the Jewish world led by Strasbourg’s Chief Rabbi Abraham Weill. The ceremony concluded with a minute of silence in memory of victims of the Holocaust and the laying of wreaths. Chairman of the German Rabbinic Organization and Vice President of the European Rabbinical Conference, Rabbi Avichai Apel, was invited to speak. This was the first time that the head of a Jewish organization has been invited to speak to the European Commission on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Rabbi Apel opened with the following words: “On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I stand before you as a rabbi of Israel, an ancient Jew, whose existence goes back to when we became a nation 3,300 years ago. It was at the foot of Mount Sinai that we received the Torah, a book of law that has accompanied us throughout history, illuminating our path. Our sages asked, “Why is it called Sinai? - That is where hatred descended into the world." From that same moment anti-Semitism burst its poison forth, and the fundamental question whose echo persists, with its finger pointing at the conscience of the enlightened world, like the wrathful finger of a prosecutor, is Why? Lama? Pourquoi? Warum? Pochemu? Por que? After all, we are the nation that gave birth to the most noble values of the world; the values of the highest humanistic standards of brotherhood; social values like the weekly day of rest; love for the stranger and the convert, concern for the labourer, and fair trade; and all these serve to amplify the terrible question that oozes with blood: Why?”

“I have not come here to provide you with an answer, as there is none. I stand before you knowing that there are subjects that are impossible to discuss in the department of philosophy, since they are part of the department of psychology. Can one lead a logical discussion about anti-Semitism? No! The famous French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, stated that anti-Semitism belongs to the situation department and not to the opinion department, and that to facilitate a discourse on a situation is impossible. Anti-Semitism exists like day and night, in ebbs and flows. It’s a reality! A fact! And just as when the ice melts in spring, and the river swells with water which then floods the banks, once in a while we are witness to an outbreak of anti-Semitism that ripples and then floods in many corners of the globe; without reason and without blame. Sometimes they try to rationalise their excuses, yet still the excuses remain absurd. And the question cries out still: Why?”

“I am standing here at the European Commission, which was established on the foundation of a promise: No more! However, “No more” does not mean that millions will not be sent to the fiery furnaces. The question we need to ask ourselves, and especially here at this noteworthy institution, is: Has enough been done so that we can live here as Jews? Is everything a relic of the past, and can we, as loyal citizens, live our lives according to our faith? Are we able to eat meat slaughtered according to Jewish law, to circumcise our sons, or does freedom of religion not equate with human rights?”

Rabbi Apel also related a story about Dov Shilansky, who served as Speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He grew up in Šiauliai, Lithuania and lived through communist rule and extermination camps. He held a series of public and parliamentary positions and spoke five languages: Hebrew, English, German, Yiddish, and Lithuanian. He initiated a memorial project for the Holocaust, Unto Every Person There is a Name, however his memory was scarred with the awful memories of discrimination from his childhood, when Jews were forbidden to walk on the pavement and allowed only to walk on the road with the horses.

“In a poignant journalistic interview, he related how, as Speaker of the Israeli parliament, he paid a visit to Vilnius, and how his lungs were bursting with pride at being able to walk on the pavement! The walk took place in silence, which was broken when he turned to his high-ranking Lithuanian escort and addressed him with a story upon whose end hung a question: One of the Jewish community members had been a man called Yankel der Blinder - Yankel the Blind. He loved children and would give them sweets. He never discriminated between a Jewish child and any other child. He couldn’t see; he simply handed out sweets to everyone. He loved them all and was elated by the voice of a happy child, no what matter their religion was. “My honoured hosts,” Shilanksy then said. “I try to understand everything, but there is one thing that I shall never understand: ‘Why did you kill Yankel the Blind?’ Why?”

Rabbi Apel continued: “International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not just another calendar event. It is an alarm clock, a wake-up warning, and a road sign. It is a day cherished by the Jewish people, at the instruction of their great rabbis and the legislation of their Israeli Knesset. It is marked on Jewish calendars throughout the world, and in this home no less. State leaders and officials take part in this Day of Liberation and Rescue, on the Hebrew date for the victory over the Nazis, initiated by Dr German Zakharyayev. On this day we remember our gratitude towards He that rescued us - The Creator of the Universe, alongside our public acknowledgement and gratitude to His messengers - the allied soldiers and the Righteous of the Nations of the world, who lay down their lives in a war against evil and darkness for the freedom of their people and the rescue of our people. We are the children of the One God, and as a people who ask forgiveness from the Creator of the Universe for our actions every day in our prayers, we know the secret of forgiving people. We remember what is impossible to forget. However, we forgive and reach out our hands in order to build a better world; a more beautiful world where love abounds for every person created in His image.”

In conclusion, Rabbi Apel devoted his words to the wave of the anti-Semitism we are currently experiencing: “On the Jewish Festival of Freedom, we proclaim that ‘In each and every generation they rise up to destroy us.’ In this context, it is impossible not to mention our tyrannical enemy from the East - Iran! It’s no secret; the Ayatollah regime in Tehran plainly and defiantly convey their desire to create another holocaust. Why? The reason derives not from the department of opinions, but from the situation department. It’s fact! Therefore, the whole world and its inhabitants, every individual with a moral conscience is to ensure that the seed of hatred does not sprout again and take root. They have a moral duty to prevent any possibility of an Iranian nuclear program.”

“Last Hannukah, the French rabbis’ convention was hosted by Azerbaijan, a country with a Shi’ite Muslim population and a member of European Commission institutions here. This country, that for centuries has warmly embraced the Jews, is located on the front opposite Iran, and maintains brotherly relations between its Azeri and Jewish citizens without any anti-Semitic incident. And this Muslim country specifically, that embraces and opens its heart to the Jews, and even established an embassy in Israel, does not receive the proper backing from countries in the EU. To the contrary. How astonishing and perplexing it is that the French senate has imposed an embargo on the purchase of gas and oil from this significant country, with its security-and morally conscious position, as it guards the borders of Europe. Why?”

Finally, in words consumed with emotion, Rabbi Apel presented his closing: “I, Rabbi Avichai Apel of Frankfurt, am present today as a proud member of the Jewish people who have met with the full spectrum of the darkness of humanity through history, and has paid for it in full. As a representative of my nation, I call on you here today to be partners, so that no one can ever impose a price on us again; so that no other nation will pay such a price in the future. Together we will continue to apply the lessons learnt from the Holocaust, until the wolf dwells with the lamb and the leopard lies down with the kid - a vision for the end of days - and until He who makes peace in the heavens makes peace for us, for all of us - magnified and sanctified is His great name!”