IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, along with hundreds of representatives from the Israeli army, visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland on Sunday, ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began this evening.
This was Eisenkot’s first time visiting concentration camps since he took up his position in February 2015. He was joined by Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the head of IDF logistics, Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, IDF spokesperson and head of IDF manpower, as well as IDF Chief Education Officer Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk.
After the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which included a march down the train tracks leading into the death camp, Eisenkot wrote in the site’s guestbook: “My first visit to Poland as IDF chief of staff, seeing the evil up close and the great difficulty in understanding it, the death machine and the serial murder of our nation.
“The words ‘from the Holocaust to redemption’ get greater importance. Understanding how Holocaust survivors got up after losing their entire families, moved to Israel, created a home and built a Jewish state, renewed after 2000.
“Understanding that only a progressive State of Israel, with a strong and powerful army, can prevent similar events in the future.
“May the memories of our brothers and sisters be blessed.”
On Sunday, Eisenkot and his delegation joined with another group of IDF soldiers visiting Poland, as part of a program known as “Witnesses in Uniform.”
On Monday, the army chief is expected to take part in a ceremony with the “March of the Living” organization.
He was joined by Prof. Simcha and Lea Goldin, the parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin whose body is believed to be held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since he was killed in the 2014 war.
During the visit to the concentration camp, the Goldins read a letter written by their son after his own visit to Poland, according to an army statement.
Each “Witnesses in Uniform” delegation includes a Holocaust survivor, who travels with the group and talks about their experience.
Micky Goldman, who was an inmate in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943, traveled with Eisenkot’s group.
After the war, Goldman moved to Israel in 1947 at the age of 22 and became an officer in the burgeoning Israel Police.
In 1960, Goldman served in the unit investigating Adolf Eichmann, who was found, captured and brought to Israel by the Mossad to stand trial for his crimes as a leader in the Schutzstaffel, more commonly known by its acronym the SS.
Goldman was the personal assistant of Gideon Hausner, then the state’s attorney, who prosecuted the case.
During the trial, Goldman’s own experiences during the Holocaust became part of the case against Eichmann.
One survivor who gave testimony mentioned seeing a youth receiving 80 lashes by an SS officer in the Przemyśl ghetto in Poland.
When Hausner asked the witness if he saw the youth in the courtroom. He responded: “It’s the police officer sitting next to you.”
The incident inspired a documentary by Israeli poet Haim Gouri, called “The 81st Blow.” Goldman received 80 blows from the Nazi officer, the metaphorical 81st blow came from his own people, who until the trial refused to listen to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.
Inside one of the death camp’s barracks, Goldman told his story to the army delegation. Afterwards, Eisenkot presented him with a set of pilot’s wings and the soldiers sang an exceprt from Psalm 34.
“Who is the man that desireth life and loveth days, that he may see good therein?
“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”