The world turned a blind eye to the rising Nazi threat over 75 years ago, and today Iran is being allowed to develop its nuclear program and menace Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday as the country marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Declaring that Iran was determined to acquire nuclear weapons, and urging international negotiators to insist that Iran’s enrichment and other nuclear capabilities be completely dismantled, Netanyahu warned: “A deal that leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state will bring the world to the threshold of the abyss.”
Israeli leaders gathered at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Sunday night to remember the 6 million victims of the Nazi genocide.
On Monday morning, an air raid siren will ring out for two minutes as the nation comes to a standstill to mark Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, as the memorial day is official known.
Six survivors of the Shoah lit torches at Yad Vashem Sunday night, and Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres spoke at the ceremony.
Netanyahu said the world had failed to act against the rising Nazi threat, despite being warned about it, drawing a line to current tensions with the Iranian regime.
“It’s not that they did not see. It’s that they did not want to see,” he said of world leaders before the Holocaust.
“Today we are facing real threats and immediate dangers,” he said. “I call on the world power to insist that Iran completely give up its abilities to make nuclear weapons.”
He added that Israel would not stand by silently.
“In contrast to our situation in the Holocaust today we have a tremendous power to protect ourselves,” he said. “Israel is stronger than ever.”
“On behalf of the Jewish people, I say to those who have sought and still seek to destroy us: You have failed and you will fail.”
The speech was a familiar echo of years past, when Netanyahu has also warned of the Iranian threat and vowed to defend the country from suffering another holocaust.
“Iran is warning openly about its intentions to destroy us and is working with all its might to carry it out,” the prime minister said at the same ceremony in 2013. “The hate against Jews hasn’t disappeared, but has morphed into a murderous hate against the Jewish state. We won’t leave our fate in the hands of others, even the best of our friends.”
Peres devoted part of his speech to the resurgence of European anti-Semitism, particularly in Hungary, where he said the Jewish community was destroyed with “brutal efficiency” 70 years ago.
“We must not ignore any occurrence of anti-Semitism, any desecration of a synagogue, any tomb stone smashed in a cemetery in which our families are buried,” he said. “We must not ignore the rise of extreme right wing parties with neo-Nazi tendencies who are a danger to each of us and a threat to every nation.”
He added that Israel had to be strong because of anti-Semitism around the world, but “must not give up on peace.”
“A strong Israel is our response to the horrors of anti-Semitism but it does not excuse the rest of the world from its responsibility to prevent this disease from returning to their own homes,” he said. “We are strong enough to repel dangers, we should not be scared of threats and we must not give up on peace.”
Netanyahu wrote on Twitter Sunday that Iran was seeking to wipe out the Jewish people as the Nazis did some 70 years ago. He also drew a line to Gazan terror group Hamas, which he said was denying the Holocaust while trying to create a new one.
Hamas denies the Holocaust even as it attempts to create an additional Holocaust by destroying the State of Israel.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 27, 2014
Earlier, Netanyahu dismissed a statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemning the Holocaust as the “most heinous crime” of the modern era. Netanyahu told CNN Abbas was attempting to “damage control” after signing a unity deal with Hamas last week.
Among the torchlighters at the Yad Vashem ceremony was Asher Aud (Sieradski), 86.
Over six years, he was separated from his parents and siblings in his native Polish town of Zdunska Wola and then scavenged for scraps of bread and staved off a debilitating illness alone in the Lodz ghetto before he was deported to the Auschwitz death camp.
There, he avoided the gas chambers and crematoria, and after a long incarceration, he weathered the notorious death march through the snow to Mauthausen, where those who fell behind were shot dead on the spot. After the war, he passed through a series of displaced person camps before he boarded a ship to the Holy Land where he did his best to forget the past for the next half century.
Of all the atrocities he endured, Aud said the strongest memory is the one that was most traumatic — parting from his mother at the age of 14.
It was September 1942. The Nazis had rounded up the Jewish community inside the local cemetery and were preparing to deport them. His father and older brother had already been taken and he was left with his mother and younger brother, Gavriel.
“I remember looking down and I happened to be standing on my grandmother’s tombstone,” he recalled. “The Germans walked among us and anytime they saw a mother with a child, they tore the child from her arms and threw them into the back of trucks.”
That’s when he realized life as he knew it was over.
“I looked around and I just said ‘mother, this is where we are going to be separated,'” he said.
Soon after they were marched through two lines of German soldiers. “I didn’t even feel it when the Germans hit me but every time they struck my mother and brother it was like they were cutting my flesh,” he said.
Israel is home to some 200,000 survivors, over a quarter of whom live in poverty, according to a report released last week.
On Sunday, government ministers approved a plan to fund an additional NIS 1 billion to expand benefits to survivors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report