President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday toured the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, wrapping up a three-day state visit.
Herzog visited the site with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Tens of thousands died at the notorious camp, including the diarist Anne Frank.
After meeting survivors and German high school students, Herzog gave a speech invoking his father, the late president Chaim Herzog, who helped liberate the concentration camp in April 1945 as an officer of the British forces.
“When the camp was liberated, a military convoy rolled into the site headed by an officer, who stood on a wooden crate and shouted in Yiddish, in front of hundreds of people, hundreds of human skeletons: ‘Yidden! Yidden! Es leben noch Yidden!’ In English: ‘Jews! There are still living Jews!’ There are still Jews in the world! That Jewish officer was my father, Chaim Herzog, of blessed memory, later president of Israel,” Herzog recounted.
He noted his father visited Bergen-Belsen again as president in 1987.
“Four decades later, my father returned here as the Sixth President of the independent, strong, and democratic Jewish State of Israel. My father chose to begin his visit here, at the same place where I conclude my visit,” he said, standing next to a stone his father had brought.
“Here he addressed the victims of the Holocaust and said: ‘In the name of the Jewish People, and in the name of the State of Israel, I repeat our oath never to forget you, and to be forever faithful to your bequest: the imperative of life,’” Herzog added.
“Thus said my father, and thus say I today as President of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish People. Here, in this terrible place, we remember the imperative that is binding on us all: the imperative of life, the imperative of the eternity of Israel, and of the duty to work for its sake in every generation.”
The president said the foremost task at the moment is to preserve the memory of those who died and to help the survivors.
“It is a duty to remember and to remind people of the Holocaust and the resistance, from generation to generation,” he said.
Steinmeier also spoke, saying “It took a long time for the Germans to understand that they themselves were also liberated at that time, namely from their murderous ideology and an inhuman dictatorship.
“The fact that we Germans were able to live in freedom and democracy again, at least in the West, is due not least to the allied liberators,” he added.
More than 52,000 mostly Jewish prisoners died at the concentration camp and more than 19,000 prisoners of war, mostly from the Soviet Union, died at the adjacent POW camp.
Bergen-Belsen was one of the first concentration camps to be liberated by the Western Allies, who arrived to find it riddled with disease and about 10,000 unburied corpses.
Today, there are huge mass graves covered with grass, on which small stones are placed as tributes for the dead.
Menachem Rosensaft, the general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and the son of Bergen-Belsen survivors, met with Herzog and Steinmeier after the official ceremony at the memorial site. Rosensaft was born at the displaced persons camp adjacent to the concentration camp shortly after the end of World War II.
“Both presidents made clear that the remembrance of the evil perpetrated at Bergen-Belsen must be a guidepost for the future of both nations,” he told The Associated Press. “For Herzog especially, the visit was clearly a personal pilgrimage that was rooted in his father’s experience in liberating the camp.”
Herzog arrived in Germany earlier this week for a state visit that also included a trip to Munich on Monday where he participated in the 50-year anniversary ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games.