President Reuven Rivlin’s remarks at the central ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, held at Yad Vashem.
“On 27 January 1945, the gates of hell were opened. Auschwitz, the greatest machine of human destruction history has ever known, was liberated. The horror that the soldiers of the Red Army saw when they when they entered the camp was inconceivable.
Private Zinovy Tolkachev, a Jewish artist and a soldier in the Red Army, described what he saw thus: “the earth groaned with the voices of the victims. I could not tear myself away from that cursed plot of land …and the horrific human hell-hole. My entire body rocked in a slow sob.”
Corpses littered the grounds of the camp. Thousands of sick and dying people, including children. Half-naked skeletons – ‘musselmans’, ‘the living dead’. One million, six hundred thousand people, nearly a million and a half of them Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz.
In pencil, on Auschwitz camp notepaper, Private Tolkachev wrote and wrote again, “So that I remember. So that I don’t forget. So that I remember. So that I don’t forget.”
We are also standing here today, Kings, leaders, heads of state, at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, “So we remember. So we don’t forget.” On behalf of the Jewish people, and as President of the State of Israel I thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming here.
Thank you for your solidarity with the Jewish people.
Thank you for your commitment to Holocaust remembrance.
Thank you for your commitment to the citizens of the world who believe in liberty and human dignity.
At the end of November 1943, the three allied leaders who led the fight against Germany and the Axis met for the first time in Teheran. This was not a meeting of friends. It was a meeting where the leaders were suspicious of each other, where deep differences divided them. But those three leaders made a choice. They chose to rise above their differences with a single aim – the defeat of fascism, the defeat of Nazi Germany. This was an alliance for humanity.
For millions of my people who were exterminated in the Holocaust, and for the millions of victims of the Second World War, the allies’ choice came too late. But they managed to stand up to the Nazi monster and say – no more. At the end of the day, liberty, human dignity and the alliance of humanity won the Second World War.
That is not to be taken for granted.
What would have happened in a world where the allies were not united? In a world where race theory dominated? We can only imagine.
Today, we mark the ability of the international community then to unite, to work for a common goal, and the duty and the imperative of the international community today to continue to work together on the basis of shared values as we face antisemitism and racism, radical forces that spread chaos and destruction, hatred and fear of human dignity and humanity itself.
At the end of the Second World War what was called the Age of Responsibility began. In the shadow of the trauma, the fear of the destruction of the Holocaust and the horrors of war, the countries of the world chose to act responsibly.
Since then, democracies have produced incredible advances for humanity. Liberation. Education. Control over deadly diseases. We must not see democracy as something to be taken for granted. Our memories of the destruction and ruination of the Holocaust and the Second World War are fading. But we must remember.
Today, too, leaders of the world – we need to be responsible.
Honored guests, the Jewish people is a people that remembers. We remember, not from a sense of superiority and not to wallow in the memories of the horrors or a sense of self-justification. We remember because we know what it is not to remember, when history repeats itself. Not only human beings were destroyed in the crematoria of Auschwitz. Human dignity, liberty and solidarity also went up in the smoke of the crematoria.
Nazi Germany tried to destroy the Jewish people in an act of freeing the world of the Jews. But Nazi race theory cost the lives of over 66 million people. Let us be clear – antisemitism does not stop with the Jews. Antisemitism and racism are a malignant disease that destroys and pulls societies apart from within, and no society and no democracy is immune.
Honored guests, the State of Israel is not compensation for the Holocaust. This is our home and this is our homeland. It is where we came from and where we returned to after 2000 years of exile. Israel is a strong democracy and a proud member of the family of nations. We are not a people waiting for redemption, but a state that looks for partnership – that demands partnership.
Full partnership in the fight against racism, and the old-new antisemitism that is breaking out today in worrying ways. It takes the guise of superiority, national purity and xenophobia that worms its way into the heart of leadership and takes a terrible price in human life.
Antisemitism is a chronic disease. It comes from left and right, taking on and discarding forms during history. Antisemitism has not changed. It is us who have changed.
The State of Israel is not a victim. We will always defend ourselves by ourselves and the state of the Jewish people will always stand surety for the safety and the security of the Jewish communities of the world. The State of Israel is an inseparable part of the international community which works together for human and scientific progress, for strengthening democratic values around the world, for halting the forces of radicalism that sows terror, bereavement and destruction and that threaten every citizen of the world that believes in freedom.
That is how we have acted, and that is how we will continue to act. I thank you all again – leaders, partners in truth – for coming here. We thank you for your commitment to the security of Jewish communities, particularly in these difficult times.
We thank those countries that have already adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, a comprehensive definition that includes all types of contemporary antisemitism, and call on all countries to do the same. This definition is a meaningful tool in the fight against antisemitism, both in education and political discourse and in the field of law enforcement.
Together, we will continue to fight antisemitism and racism, we will fight Holocaust denial, we will educate our sons and daughters, we will remember and research so that history does not repeat itself. The Age of Responsibility – the responsibility of all of us sitting here – is not over.
Dear Holocaust survivors: you are our miracle. Your strength of spirit built houses and planted trees, and your heroism ensured our freedom in a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish state. Your love of the land, your love of Israel, are the beacon that will always guide us.
May the memory of our brothers and sisters, the victims of the Holocaust and those who waged war on Nazism, including the Righteous Amongst the Nations, be forever engraved on our hearts.”
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
Your support through The Times of Israel Community helps us continue to keep readers across the world properly informed during this tumultuous time. Have you appreciated our coverage in past months? If so, please join the ToI Community today.
~ Carrie Keller-Lynn, Political Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel