Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address at Yad Vashem on Wednesday, April 18, Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Official Prime Minister’s Office translation from the Hebrew.)
Yesterday morning, I visited an old-age home for Holocaust survivors. There, I met Idit Yapo, an amazing woman of 104, clear and lucid. Idit fled Germany shortly after Hitler gained power, in 1934.
I met 89-year-old Esther Nadiv, one of Mendele’s twins. She was reading a book, Golda Meir’s biography, and she told me, with a glint in her eye, she said: “I am so proud, so very proud to be a part of the State of Israel which is in constant development.”
I met Hanoch Mandelbaum, an 89-year-old survivor of Bergen-Belsen. Shortly after he came to Israel, as a young carpenter, he helped construct the desk upon which Ben Gurion signed the Declaration of Independence. That is MiSho’a liTkuma – from holocaust to resurrection.
And I met Elisheva Lehman, an 88 year-old Holocaust survivor from Holland, who was a music teacher.
I asked Elisheva if she would play something for us and she did. She enthusiastically played “Am Yisrael Chai” and we all sung together. It was quite emotional.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Am Yisrael Chai [The nation of Israel lives]
Our enemies tried to bury the Jewish future, but it was reborn in the land of our forefathers. Here, we built a foundation for a new beginning of freedom, hope, and creation. Year after year, decade after decade, we built the foundations of our country, and we will continue to yearly strengthen the pillars of our national life.
On this day, when our entire nation gathers together to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered, we must fulfill our most sacred obligation.
This obligation is not merely an obligation to remember the past. It is an obligation to learn its lessons, and, most importantly, to apply them to the present in order to secure the future of our people. We must remember the past and secure the future by applying the lessons of the past.
This is especially true for this generation – a generation that once again is faced with calls to annihilate the Jewish State.
One day, I hope that the State of Israel will enjoy peace with all the countries and all the peoples in our region. One day, I hope that we will read about these calls to destroy the Jews only in history books and not in daily newspapers.
But that day has not yet come.
Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal.
I know that there are those who do not like when I speak such uncomfortable truths. They prefer that we not speak of a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. They say that such language, even if true, only sows fear and panic.
I ask, have these people lost all faith in the people of Israel?
Do they think that this nation, which has overcome every danger, lacks the strength to confront this new threat?
Did the State of Israel not triumph over existential threats when it was far less powerful than it is today? Did its leaders have any qualms about saying the truth?
David Ben Gurion told the people of Israel the truth about the existential dangers they faced in 1948 when five Arab armies tried to snuff Israel out in its cradle.
Levi Eshkol told the people of Israel the truth in 1967 when a noose was being placed around Israel’s neck and we stood alone to face our fate.
And when they heard these truths, did the people of Israel panic or did they unite to thwart the dangers? Were we paralyzed with fear or did we do what was necessary to protect ourselves.
I believe in the people of Israel – and this belief is based on our experiences. I believe that the people of Israel can handle the truth. And I believe that they we have the capability to defeat those who seek to harm us.
Those who dismiss Iran’s threats as exaggerated or as mere idle posturing have learned nothing from the Holocaust. But we should not be surprised.
There have always been those among us who prefer to mock those who tell uncomfortable truths than squarely face the truth themselves.
That is how Zev Jabotinsky was received when he warned the Jews of Poland of the looming Holocaust.
This is what he said in 1938, in Warsaw:
“It is already THREE years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of World Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became grey and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brother and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all-consuming lava… I see that you are not seeing this because you are immersed and sunk in your daily worries… Listen to me in this twelfth hour: In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is still time, and time there is very little.”
But the leading Jewish intellectuals of the day ridiculed Jabotinsky, and rather than heed his warning, they attacked him.
This is what Sholem Asch, one of our nation’s greatest writers, said about him:
“What Jabotinsky is now doing in Poland is going too far. His statement is detrimental to Zionism and to the vital interests of our people… It is disgraceful that these are leaders of a nation.”
I know there are also those who believe that the unique evil of the Holocaust should never be invoked in discussing other threats facing the Jewish people.
To do so, they argue, is to belittle the Holocaust and to offend its victims.
I totally disagree. On the contrary. To cower from speaking the uncomfortable truth – that today like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jewish people – that is to belittle the Holocaust, that is to offend its victims and that is to ignore the lessons.
Not only does the Prime Minister of Israel have the right, when speaking of these existential dangers, to invoke the memory of a third of our nation which was annihilated. It is his duty.
There is a memorable scene in Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah that explains this obligation more than anything.
In the harsh existence in the Warsaw Ghetto, Leon Feiner of the Bund and Menachem Kirschenbaum of the General Zionists met with Jan Karski from the Polish World War II Resistance Movement.
Jan Karski was a decent, sensitive man, and they begged him to appeal to the conscience of the world against the Nazi crimes. They described what was happening, they showed him, but to no avail.
They said: “Help us. We have no country of our own, we have no government, and we even have no voice among the nations”
They were right.
Seventy years ago the Jewish people did not have the national capacity to summon the nations, nor the military might to defend itself.
But today things are different.
Today we have an army.
We have the ability, the duty and the determination to defend ourselves.
As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never shy from speaking the truth before the world, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem to some.
I speak the truth at the United Nations; I speak the truth in Washington DC, the capital of our great friend, the United States, and in other important capitals; And I speak the truth here in Jerusalem, on the grounds of Yad VaShem which are saturated with remembrance.
I will continue to speak the truth to the world, but first and foremost I must speak it to my own people. I know that my people is strong enough to hear the truth.
The truth is that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat of the State of Israel.
The truth is that a nuclear-armed Iran is an political threat to other countries throughout the region and a grave threat to the world peace.
The truth is that Iran must be stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons.
It is the duty of the whole world, but above and beyond, it is OUR duty.
The memory of the Holocaust goes beyond holding memorial services; it is not merely a historical recollection.
The memory of the Holocaust obligates us to apply the lessons of the past to ensure the basis of our future.
We will never bury our heads in the sand.
Am Yisrael Chai, veNetzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker
[The Nation of Israel Lives, and the Eternal one of Israel does not Lie]