As part of the events marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and at the invitation of the President of Germany, President Reuven Rivlin today (Wednesday 29 January, 2020), spoke to a special sitting of the Bundestag in memory of the victims of Nazism. The families of Hadar Goldin ז"ל and Oron Shaul ז"ל were also present, at the invitation of President Rivlin.
President Rivlin’s remarks in full:
“Your honors, I would like to begin my remarks with an ancient Jewish prayer, Yizkor, whose original version was first written here in Germany around one thousand years ago. This prayer has been with the Jewish people all this time and it is recited to honor and remember those dearest to us of all.
“May God remember and may the Jewish people remember the souls of all those who perished in the Holocaust and its heroes, the souls of the thousands upon thousands of Jews, targeted during the years of the Shoah. Six million men and women, boys and girls, young men and women, elderly people and babies, who were killed and massacred and murdered in strange and terrible deaths by the Nazi German murderers and their accomplices from all nations. Judge of this land, remember the rivers of blood spilt like water, the pleas of ‘Shema Yisrael’ that those taken to death cried out. Do not remain silent, and allow those who were tortured to come before Your seat of honor. In life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. May they rest in peace, and let us say Amen.
“Your honors, I was born in Jerusalem, in September 1939. When the gates of the death camps were opened, my friends and I started first grade. We knew little of the scale of the atrocity. Slowly, we met survivors. We heard testimonies. On them, we saw for the first time, the numbers on the arm.
“At the beginning, we thought that they had lost their minds. Slowly, we realized that it was the world that had gone mad.
“On 19 August 1965, I was among the protestors against the arrival of Pauls, the German ambassador to Israel. Before that, I protested against the reparations agreement between Germany and Israel. I protested then against What I saw as a show of defeatism and an attempt to blur the atrocities.
“Today, I stand before you, with you.
“Germany did not buy the pardon of the Jews. It is true that the reparations brought life to the young State of Israel. But Germany’s acceptance of responsibility for the Holocaust of the Jews and the way Germany confronted its crimes -in public, consistently, constantly, - these are what allowed, what allow for the new chapter in relations. Israel and Germany walk together with tension and with courage between past and present. between the obligation to remember and never to forget, and the commitment to the future which tells us to look forward and to work together on the basis of shared values and interests.
“Your honors, at the end of the Second World War Europe rebuilt itself, particularly western Europe, as a new Europe. A Europe which laid out for the world a vision of open borders of cooperation, of civil and human rights. At the heart of the European Union project that was later established, Auschwitz stood as a warning sign. The architects of the union saw their obligation to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust, f racism and nationalism, of war.
“Over the years of profound confrontation with the destruction that Nazi Germany brought upon the Jewish people, on Europe, on all humanity, it was Germany, of all places, that emerged as the leader of the new Europe and of the EU. That same country that was the terror of the free world became a beacon for democracy and liberalism, for responsibility and moderation. Madame Chancellor, you have been nicknamed more than once the leader of the free world.
“The responsibility that Germany bears is heavy. It is particularly heavy because today Europe, like parts of the world at large, is again changing. Europe today is again pursued by the ghosts of the past. Conceptions of superiority, nationalist purity, xenophobia, ugly and blatant antisemitism drift across Europe. From the right to the hard left, antisemitism permeates the heart of European leadership.
“Let me immediately make it clear: we are not in the 1930s. We are not on the brink of a second Shoah, or anything like it. But we cannot ignore the old-new antisemitism, the racism and xenophobia directed particularly against Jews, Muslims and foreigners, that is once again raising its head.
“I am aware that some of the attacks come from Muslims, and do not take it lightly, and still it is no coincidence that on last Yom Kippur a right-wing extremist tried to attack the synagogue in Halle, and when he failed, moved on to a shop selling Halal food. We deeply appreciated your visit, President Steinmeier, there the day after the incident.
“It is true that the Jews are the first targets of the racist nationalist movement that crosses borders and continents. But sometimes, political parties with antisemitic roots hide their hatred for Jews and publicly declare their hatred of Muslims.”
“I, and the Israeli people, deeply appreciate the efforts made by German governments since Adenauer to eradicate antisemitism and racism. German governments, Mr. President and Madame Chancellor, including those under your leadership, have invested in an unprecedented way in remembrance and memorial, in fighting Holocaust denial and in educating the next generations. This is the place to thank you, too, Former finance minister and President of the Bundestag Schauble and to the German government for its support in restoring Jewish cemeteries in eastern Europe for five years already. We applaud this ongoing investment.
“At the same time, we share your concern, that there is a gap. There is a gap between the investment and the stubbornness, the depth and the unbelievably chronic nature of antisemitism. In the first decades after the Second World War I believed that, after what happened, human understanding of the death and destruction that hatred lead to would be enough to eradicate antisemitism from the world, forever. Today, I regretfully understand there is no such thing. Even I, a son of the Jewish people, do not have the formula for wiping out antisemitism.
“And yet, I am here to say to you, that the State of Israel and Germany are true partners in the indispensable, moral, and, yes, perhaps eternal stance against antisemitism and xenophobia, that led to the destruction of humanity that happened here 75 years ago.
“The Jewish people is a remembering people. We remember not from a feeling of superiority. We remember not in order to wallow in the memories of the atrocities or a sense of self-righteousness. We remember because we understand that if we do not remember, history will repeat itself.
“Not only Jews, and with them Roma, Sinti, Poles and thousands of other people, went up in the flames of the crematoria at Auschwitz. Human rights, liberty and human solidarity also went up in smoke from the crematoria at Auschwitz. And that is the most central and jarring message of the Shoah - that Shoah – destruction - can happen.
“We are full of admiration for Germany’s efforts and its role in the international fight against antisemitism and racism. But at the same time, we all understand today yhat this is not a war that can be won once and forever. This is a war that we must sign up for generation after generation. To uproot the weeds, wherever they grow, day after day. We must not relent. Germany must not fail.
“Germany, the place where the Final Solution was envisaged took upon itself the responsibility to defend nationalist-liberal values when they are being eroded by waves of populism. If Germany fails trying to prevent the disaster, others everywhere are likely to fail. If, in the place that the Holocaust of the Jews was born Jews cannot live freely, they cannot live free of fear anywhere in Europe.
“I say to you, members of this house, our friends - Europe and the whole world looks to you, to Germany. The responsibility is yours. I do not say this to preach, but from a sense of partnership, a sense of concern, a sense of respect and appreciation for your efforts. I know that you face many challenges. Together with her allies, Germany bears the leadership of the European Union, of global leadership in confronting climate change and nd the obligation of confronting the international refugee and migration crisis.
“I believe and wish that the people of Germany and its leaders will continue, in the coming decades, to repel hatred and incitement and continue to set an example of leadership for whom commitment to history, responsibility, moderation and toleration are its guiding lights. I want to express my support for Germany’s leadership for its courage and its determination, for its loud and clear voice. Even if we cannot make antisemitism and racism disappear forever, we will never allow them to defeat us again.
“Your honors, there is a disagreement between us. A deep disagreement between true friends regarding the attempt to reach agreement with the Iranian leadership. I know that there are those who claim that we must distinguish between the Iranian leadership’s rhetoric and its policy in reality. And yet, on this of all days, I would like to say to you: we do not have the privilege of ignoring either the Iranian leadership’s policy or its rhetoric.
“We all know well how rhetoric that preaches hatred of Israel, to destroy it, how dangerous it is. We all know its power.
“We have no war with the Iranian people, on the contrary. There are warm and meaningful relations between the peoples. Israel is home to a large community of Iranian Jews, a community proud of its heritage and culture. But, to our regret, the threat posed today by the Iranian leadership is not a theoretical question. For us, it is existential. We are not the ones to describe it like this, but rather the Iranian leadership, which definitively claims that it aims to destroy the State of Israel and declares that our extermination is its political-diplomatic goal.
“We are not in 1938, but we will not turn a blind eye when they give terrorist organizations on our borders hundreds of aircraft and trucks filled with dangerous weapons including precision missiles which have one target - to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and other Israeli cities.
“I commend this house’s call not to distinguish between the military and political wings of Hizbollah, to also recognize the political wing as a terrorist organization and to put Hizbollah outside of the law. I call on the German government to adopt this necessary call.
“The State of Israel knows how to defend itself against the Iranian leadership and its proxies, and will not hesitate to do so. But I am of the opinion that a leadership that aims to eradicate the State of Israel in words and in deeds, a leadership that achieves its political vision through terror, hatred, bereavement and destruction, through the murder of innocent civilians across the whole world, a leadership such as this represents a danger to the peace of the whole world. In the face of a political vision such as this, a leadership such as this, there is only one possibility: we must isolate it and we must denounce it until its murderous aspirations have been defeated.
“Friends, the conflicts in the Middle East sometimes appear particularly complex. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long become a tragedy, years-long in its duration. But as other global conflicts have been resolved, I am convinced that this too can be ended.
“Yesterday in Washington, we saw moments that could bring great hope. After long years of diplomatic stalemate, President Trump - a courageous friend of the State of Israel - presented a plan that could allow the two peoples to renew the channels of dialog and make progress towards a shared future.
“It is no simple matter and both sides need to study the plan in depth. It is a plan that demands deep, difficult and complex concessions from both sides, but we must not give up. For those who surrender, surrender the chance, and I refuse to surrender.
“The basis for any solution must be a profound appreciation for human life and the belief that ‘on the other side’ live people who want to live, as we do. Each side has its truth, its anxieties, and its hopes. Despite this, despite the difficulty, we must think of creative solutions that strengthen security and stability, to allow prosperity and growth for both sides. I hope that this plan will be implemented bearing these principles in mind, and will lead to a better reality for us all.
“The strength of the State of Israel makes us, in the view of many around the world, into Goliath and the Palestinians into David. We are not David and they are not Goliath. We are not Goliath and they are not David. Israel’s strength and might over the years was and is the key to peace, not an obstacle to peace. This is how it was with Egypt, this is how it was with Jordan.
“It is true that the relations between Israel and the Palestinians are not symmetrical, but our capacity to find a political and diplomatic solution is dependent on the ability of both sides to trust one another. We must build confidence between us. The future of the Middle East and the integration of Israel in the region hinges on building this trust. I thank the German leadership for its deep commitment to Israel’s security and its aid in building mutual trust.
“Your honors, here with me today are the Goldin and Shaul families. Five and a half years ago, during Operation Protective Edge, IDF Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and First Sergeant Oron Shaul were killed. Their bodies are still held by Hamas. We once again request the assistance of the international community in bringing our boys back home, and with them our civilians held in breach of international law and of morality.
“Hadar is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, the third generation. In high school, during his visit with his fellow students to the Auschwitz death camp, Hadar wrote a letter to his family, saying: “I am now getting out of the cattle-car. Like many other Jews like me. They took their final steps. I go from here on the path I was instructed, to flourish out of the ashes.” That is what he wrote. The Jewish people flourished out of the ashes, and established a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish state, both values in the same breath.
“On behalf of the Jewish people I thank President Steinmeier, the members and the Presidents of the Bundestag over the years. I thank you for the true friendship and partnership and pray that we continue to pave a path towards a future of tolerance, liberty and growth.
“May the memories of our brothers and sisters, the victims of the Shoah and those who fought in battle against the Nazis, including the Righteous among the Nations, be inscribed in our hearts forever.
“God bless you."