AUSCHWITZ – A ceremony in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day was held Wednesday at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would always stand guard against "a new Amalek".
Meanwhile Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, in a major speech to Italy's parliament, attacked wartime Pope Pius XII on Wednesday for his "silence" during the Nazis' mass killings of Jews.
Netanyahu, one of the ceremony's keynote speakers, began his speech by recounting Poland's lengthy history with the Jewish people, which he said included great achievements as well as the lowest points in human history.
"We remember those who froze to death, and if they didn't freeze were gassed and burned in crematoriums. We remember that a third of the Righteous Gentiles, those who risked their lives and more than this, risked the lives of their children and families to save others, were Polish," he added.
"We will always remember what the Nazi Amalek did to us, and we won't forget to be prepared for the new Amalek, who is making an appearance on the stage of history and once again threatening to destroy the Jews," Netanyahu said in a possible reference to Iran.
"We will not take this lightly and believe that these are empty statements. We will not be calm as if threats and denial of the Holocaust were just blank words. We will never forget and always remember to stand guard."
Netanyahu delivers Auschwitz speech (Photo: Reuters)
The prime minister added, "We the Jewish people have internalized our lesson well after losing a third of our people, and have learned that the only guarantee for our nation is a strong state and the IDF.
"We have learned that we must warn against new dangers standing at the nations' gates and we must be prepared to defend ourselves. I vow that we will never help evil to cut our lives short. Never again."
'Why was world silent?'
The ceremony was attended by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the president of the European Parliament, and a party of MKs from Israel.
Kaczynski said in the opening speech: "This is for you and for your friends who were murdered then, or could not be here today."
He recounted the atrocities that took place in Auschwitz since July 1940. "Jews were murdered simply because they were Jews. Others were murdered because they were Polish or Russian," Kaczynski added.
"If this is what happened, it could happen again in the future," the Polish president warned.
"This is why remembering is so important. We must teach the truth, a truth not everyone will like, but the truth about what happened. What happened here wasn't a chain of criminal events, it was something well-organized by a state."
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who spoke after the president, said, "We ask why the world was silent. Why did the world allow this to happen?"
He said people should never have to feel helpless. "A person should never be a number. No one should have to wear a striped outfit or be tortured until the end of his life," he added.
Wiesel: Silence never helps victims
In his speech before the Italian parliament and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Elie Wiesel said of the WWII pope, "Whether at the lowest level of politics or the highest level of spirituality, silence never helps the victims. Silence always helps the aggressor."
At about the same time German-born Pope Benedict, who has defended the actions of his wartime predecessor, was also speaking about the Holocaust at his general audience at the Vatican across the River Tiber.
The Vatican maintains that Pius was not silent during the war, but chose to work behind the scenes, concerned that public intervention would have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics in a wartime Europe dominated by Hitler.
At his general audience Benedict, who was drafted into the Hitler Youth and German army as a teenager during World War Two, called the Holocaust a "homicidal folly" that should never be forgotten.
"With an emotional spirit, we think of the countless victims of blind and religious hate, those who underwent deportation, imprisonment and death in those abhorrent and inhuman places," Benedict said.
In his speech, Wiesel also renewed his demand that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and called for the destruction of Israel, be arrested the next time he leaves Iran.
"He should be hauled off to the International Court of Justice to face charges of incitement of crimes against humanity," Wiesel said.
Reuters contributed to this report