Today the world recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivered remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies.
Below is the full text:
Thank you very much, Gil, and I want to thank all of you, the ambassadors and the diplomatic corps, for showing up in big numbers. It matters for us and I appreciate you all for joining me in marking this very important occasion.
Today marks the 77th year since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau when 7,000 Jews were saved, but 6 million Jewish men, women and children had already perished.
While we can’t fully process the cruelty of this magnitude, you just can’t, we can only understand the Holocaust one story at a time.
And one of those stories is the story of a Jewish boy called Eli. He was 15 years old when the Holocaust began. He was the eldest child of the Rodzinek family in Poland which had his mom Gitel, his father Moshe and two younger brothers, Shaul and Yaakov. Now they lived on a Polish village on the border of Germany.
So on September 1, 1939, at the very beginning of the war, their village was conquered right away by Germany. And within a few days, on Yom Kippur, the Nazis summoned all the Jewish men to the town square to go supposedly to work.
Eli, who as I told you was 15 years old, he was very sharp, he understand or thought or supposed that it was not work, where they were taking all the men. So he begged his father, “father, father, don’t go to the village square.” And he managed for a while to stop his father from going but at the end his father said, “Look it’s only work. I’m going to work.” And he ran to the truck as the truck was moving away and sort of jumped on the truck so he doesn’t miss out on this. Eli never saw his father again.
Afterwards, Eli, with his mother and two younger brothers, fled eastward to try and evade the Germans. And within Poland – he for the entirety of the Holocaust, for the five years of the Holocaust – he basically hid his family in the woods, in the wilderness. His family had a Jewish accent, a Yiddish accent, and also more Jewish faces. He had sort of a non-Jewish face. He had blue eyes and looked Polish and he knew how to speak Polish without a Jewish accent.
So what he did was he hid them in the woods and every day, Eli, who hid the fact that he was Jewish, went out to work with Polish farmers and then he would return in the evening to the forest with food scraps to feed his family. And every two or three weeks, he would move his family from one hiding place to another.
Towards the end of the war, weeks before liberation, as Eli was on his way back to the hiding place, this time he didn’t move his family for a few weeks, so he was on his way back. He saw a group of Polish boys walking in the opposite direction. They had a bad look in their eyes and they started laughing at Eli and they said to him, “Eli, we murdered your family.” And he ran back as quickly as possible to the hiding place where his family was and when he got there, he saw his mom and two younger brothers murdered. This is after five years that he – this 15-year-old and ultimately older boy – managed to keep them alive for almost the entire Holocaust. A short time later the Russians liberated the area.
For those who survived, the Holocaust never ended. There is no such thing as freedom from the horrors they endured. Defeating the Nazis did not bring back Eli’s mother and didn’t return his childhood and didn’t bring back his family.
After the Holocaust, Eli met a young woman called Clara in Poland. She also lost her entire family in the Holocaust. She was hiding as a Christian throughout the years. They got married and had two boys, David and Moshe. Moshe is my wife’s father and grandfather of my children, Yonatan, David, Avigail and Michal. My daughter, Michal Clara, is named after grandma Clara and my other daughter, Avigail Elia, is named after saba Eli, grandpa Eli. The boy I’ve been talking about.
I had the privilege to know Eli. He was a tough guy. Didn’t speak a lot. The horror was always in his eyes but he rebuilt a family here in Israel. They came and my children carry in their blood and their name the memory of the Holocaust.
Like a generation of young Jews in Israel and around the world, they carry a connection to human history, the darkest point in the history of mankind. But with that memory, they also carry strength for a strong future for the Jewish people.
A future that I, as prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to protect.
The Jewish people fought their way out of the woods and today, we have a home. Being able to raise your children without constant fear of being murdered should not be a privilege, but it is.
We Jews made this world safer for ourselves. Those who continue to try to attack Jews, to murder Jews, must know the Jew is no longer a punching bag. We swing back and we swing back hard.
My friends, ambassadors, we may not be able to understand what it was like to live through the Holocaust. We may never know what it means to live in a forest for years in fear for the life of your family. To hide your Jewish identity and pray that no one sees that you might have a slight accent, but we can embrace the lessons the Holocaust has taught us. Don’t take freedom for granted; cherish it. Don’t take injustice for granted; challenge it. Don’t be a bystander to cruelty; fight it.
The world must learn from the horrors of the Holocaust and do what’s necessary to ensure that humanity does not succumb ever again to the evil that we’ve seen.
When we hear the Iranian regime’s daily calls to annihilate the State of Israel – as we speak, they continue talking about murdering and destroying the State of Israel, the Jewish state – and when we see their rapid progression towards nuclear weapons, indifference is silent acceptance. A country who talks about annihilating the Jewish state should not be a legitimate partner for anything.
When Jews continue to be targeted for being Jews, both the individual Jew or the collective Jew, the Jewish state, indifference is silent acceptance.
After the Holocaust, rose a sovereign nation that has the power to defend itself. Israel is the Jewish people’s defiance over indifference. Today, we’re free and strong and an independent state.
On this occasion, International Holocaust Memorial Day, let us honor those who perished by combating indifference with initiative, inaction with engagement, by combating injustice with truth.
You see, 'never again' is more than just a hashtag, it’s a call to action.
It is our vow that the Jewish people will never again be powerless, never again be voiceless and never again be homeless. The horrors of the Holocaust cannot be erased but we can build a good future for ourselves and for others.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Thank you very much, my friends.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.