For Jews, Holocaust memory is genetic, passed from generation to generation, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during a memorial ceremony in the Knesset on Thursday as part of a series of events to mark Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The memory of the Holocaust is not just a memory but a layer, part of the DNA that is passed down from generation to generation,” Bennett said.
The head of Germany’s parliament, along with the prime minister, President Isaac Herzog and other Israeli officials, lit a memorial candle in the Knesset for the ceremony.
“I bow my head with humility and shame in face of the Holocaust victims,” Bundestag President Barbel Bas said in German ahead of the official Knesset ceremony “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” during which the names of Nazi genocide victims were read aloud.
“It is forbidden for us to forget and we will not forget,” she said. “From our historical guilt stems a commitment. It is upon us to fight resolutely against antisemitism in all of its forms, and it is upon us to preserve the [victims’] memory, and to pass on their memory to the younger generations.”
Likud MK Ophir Akunis said during the ceremony that he will not forgive the Germans for the Holocaust.
“Others may be able to forgive the Germans,” he said in Hebrew, after addressing Bas briefly in English, noting that 97 percent of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, where his family hails from, was killed in the Holocaust. “I do not forget or forgive, nor will I forgive this act of pure evil, ever.”
But Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy called Bas’s participation in the Israeli parliament’s ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began Wednesday evening, “a significant and important expression of the special connection that exists between the countries, for the historical responsibility that Germany took for the war crimes, and Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security.”
Bas lit the memorial candle in front of the Knesset in memory of Irma Natan, a Jewish resident of Duisburg and head of the welfare committee for the Jewish community, who was killed in the Holocaust. Bas is also from Duisburg, in western Germany.
Herzog and his wife, Michal, also joined the ceremony after laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem earlier Thursday. Herzog read aloud the names of several family members murdered in the Holocaust, as well as “the 10,000 Jews of the Lomza Ghetto in Poland, murdered and massacred and exiled to Auschwitz in January 1943, like lambs to slaughter.”
Bennett and his wife, Gilat, also placed a wreath during the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial museum before joining the Knesset ceremony.
During the ceremony, the prime minister also shared the story of his wife’s grandfather.
“He was never able to forgive himself for not protecting his mother and his two brothers, who were killed at the hands of the Polish,” Bennett said. Israel and Poland have had tense ties in recent years, particularly over Polish legislation that intended to bar Holocaust restitution claims, and Warsaw’s legislation seeking to ban comments assigning any blame for the Holocaust to Poland.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz participated on Thursday in a memorial ceremony at the Massuah Museum in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.
“In Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, we occasionally mention Israel’s security threats, led by Iran — which seeks to acquire nuclear weapons and pose an existential threat to us,” Gantz said. “Therefore, the State of Israel must have military power and it must have moral power alongside it. We must be strong and know how to defend ourselves on our own. This is an important lesson of the Jewish people for generations and we must be moral so that we have something to live for.”
“Preserving human morality and humane values are some of the key lessons of the Holocaust,” he added. “These… stem from our ability to live as one strong and cohesive society, not as a people scattered in Diaspora.”
Bas is the first senior German official to attend Holocaust Remembrance Day events at the Israeli parliament.
Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and around the world marks 24 hours of remembrances dedicated to the victims of the Nazi genocide. The annual memorial day is one of the most solemn days on Israel’s national calendar. Much of the country shut down for two minutes for a memorial siren at 10 a.m. Thursday.