Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday, capping a three-day state trip to Germany.
During his visit to the camp, the Israeli president recounted the story of Bergen-Belsen’s liberation, witnessed by his father, the late Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who served among the British soldiers to liberate the camp in April 1945.
Bergen-Belsen was one of the first concentration camps to be liberated by Allied forces after more than 52,000, mostly-Jewish prisoners died at the concentration camp, among them Anne Frank.
Herzog shared on Tuesday about his father’s outspoken relief to discover there were still Jewish survivors of the Nazi war crimes in Europe.
“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!” the president recounted. “That Jewish officer was my father, Chaim Herzog, of blessed memory – later, president of Israel.”
Chaim Herzog visited the concentration camp again in 1987, four decades later, as Israel’s sixth elected president “of the independent, strong and democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Herzog said to those in attendance at Bergen-Belsen.
“My father chose to begin his visit here, at the same place where I conclude my visit. 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,’” he said.
In his comments, the younger Herzog emphasized how essential it is every generation to work for Israel’s existence.
“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,” he said.
The president also noted the utmost importance of preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of those who stood up to the Nazi regime.
“It is a duty to remember and to remind people of the Holocaust and the resistance, from generation to generation,” he said.
The German president, who spoke at the memorial event, emphasized Germany’s debt to the Allied powers.
“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,” Steinmeier said. “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.”
After the official ceremony at Bergen-Belsen, Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and son of Bergen-Belsen survivors, met with Herzog and Steinmeier. Rosensaft, himself, was born at the displaced persons camp next to Bergen-Belsen.
“Both presidents made clear that the remembrance of the evil perpetrated at Bergen-Belsen must be a guidepost for the future of both nations,” Rosensaft said. “For Herzog especially, the visit was clearly a personal pilgrimage that was rooted in his father’s experience in liberating the camp.”
Also on his trip to Germany, Herzog visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and participated in the 50-year anniversary ceremony for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.