Throughout Israel heads are bowed as the nation marks Holocaust Remembrance Day and remembers the six million murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. During a commemoration ceremony held Sunday at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the lessons of the Holocaust and the Iranian threat.
"Israel is a wellspring of innovation in the world, with its face to the future", he said. "But we still need to ask the question: Have the lessons of the Holocaust been learned?
"I believe that three of the lessons are: Strengthen yourself, educate for good and fight evil. The first lesson – strengthen yourself – first of all concerns us, the people of Israel who were abandoned and powerless before the waves of murderous hate that broke against us again and again, in every generation. We need to gird our strength for our independence to ensure that the next enemy cannot plot his schemes against us. Maintaining our strength is the first condition for our existence. It is also the necessary condition for widening the circle of peace with those of our neighbors who have come to terms with our existence.
"The second lesson – educate for good – means educating to accept the other and accept different ideas," the prime minister continued. "This is the awareness that lies at the base of Jewish thinking, that each human being is created in the image of G-d, that each human being has the right to freedom, to life, to choose his own path. This is the essence of a free society, this is the ground from which Nazi or fanatic ideology can never grow, ideology which strives for genocide and commits it also.
"This is how we educate children in the State of Israel, which is a light of tolerance in a region of darkness and zealotry. But this good state has a complementary side, and this is the third lesson of the Holocaust: to fight evil.
"A free society must ask itself what it should do in the face of evil forces who aim to destroy it and to trample human beings and their rights underfoot. There is no limitless tolerance, and we must draw the line. This is the question that all enlightened states must ask. The historic failure of the free nations before the Nazi beast was in the fact that they did not gather to oppose it in time, when it was still possible to stop it.
"We are witness today to the new-old fire of hate, hatred of Jews inflamed by organizations and regimes of extremist Islam, most of all Iran and its satellites. Iran's leaders are scurrying to develop nuclear weapons and freely announce their desire to destroy Israel, but before these repeated declarations to wipe the Jewish state from the face of the earth, at best we hear faint protest, and even this is fading.
Yad Vashem (Photo: AP)
"We don't hear the forceful protest that is required, we don't hear the strong denouncement, nor the angry voice. But as usual, there are those who direct their criticism against us, against Israel… The world accepts Iran's declarations of annihilation and we still don't see the international determination required to prevent Iran arming… I call on the enlightened nations to rise and denounce this intention to destroy, and to act with real determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."
'In our hearts, Shoah; in our deeds, hope'
Earlier during the ceremony, President Shimon Peres recalled the lessons of the Shoah. He too emphasized that we must not be indifferent to Iranian threats.
"Israel will never forget two commands from the Holocaust," the president said. "The strong command to maintain an independent Jewish state, whose security is in its own hands, and with peace in its heart, and the command to take seriously threats of annihilation, Holocaust denial, and incitement to terror.
"It is our right and our obligation to demand from the nations of the world not to be indifferent as they were once, which resulted in millions of victims, including their own. The UN must hear the threats of annihilation coming from one state, which is a UN member, against another UN member state." Peres said that part of the Iranian nation itself is ashamed of the tyranny that controls it.
"The Arab states are aware that the anti-Israel incitement of Ahmadinejad is aimed at deflecting attention from his real aim, which is hegemonic control of the entire region," Peres warned. "The world war broke out with the satanic incitement of the Nazis, with the claim that the Germans are a superior race."
Peres said that the fire in which Jewish books were burned will continue to burn in our hearts as an impossible separation from "six million of our brothers, men, women, elderly. From a million and a half of our children. An incredible potential for live, for abilities, annihilated, a loss never to return." He added that the state must bear the cry of the Holocaust together with the din of its construction.
"Our eyes will remain open to danger, at all times, and our hands ceaselessly extended in peace. In our hearts the Shoah, and in our deeds, hope."
Torch bearers for Holocaust remembrance
Six Holocaust survivors who dedicated their lives to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, lit six torches Sunday evening at the Holocaust commemoration ceremony at Yad Vashem. The theme this year was "Voice of the Survivors."
Eliezer (Lazer) Ayalon
In 1941, when he was 13 years old, Eliezer was imprisoned with his family in a ghetto in Poland. He forged his age and obtained work and a place to live in a German clothes store outside the ghetto. At work he would sing, and his singing caught the attention of his bosses, who asked him to sing at their birthday celebrations. In Augst 1942, the ghetto was shut down. Those with work permits were allowed to leave, but Eliezer refused to be separated from his family. Finally, his mother succeeded in persuading him to leave. The same night he left, his mother was sent to Treblinka where she was murdered along with her daughter and one of her sons.
In the spring of 1944, Eliezer was transferred to the Plashov, Mauthausen, and Melk concentration camps. In April 1945 a selection was carried out. The weak and sick were murdered, and the others were taken out on a forced march, the March of Death. Eliezer broke his leg but managed to get to the camp at the end of the march. On May 6, 1945 US soldiers liberated the camp. In 1945 he came to Israel and fought in the War of Independence in the Etzioni regiment.
During the last decades, Eliezer has been lecturing at schools and military bases. He is also often invited to communities in the US and has traveled to Poland many times, accompanying delegations and as a witness. "In 1993 I went with my wife, my children and my grandchildren to the camps and we entered those cursed gates of Plashov and Mauthausen, and we decided to sing (Israel's national anthem) Hatikva. At the end I said to my children, We defeated Hitler, we won the war. You are the symbol of victory." Eliezer married Rivka. They have a son, a daughter, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In June 1941, when he was 17 years old, the Germans conquered Vilna and began slaughtering the city's Jews in Punar. Baruch obtained work in a German garage where military vehicles were repaired. In the spring of 1942, the youth of the ghetto organized an underground group, collected funds, bought arms and prepared to escape to the forests and join the partisans. The plan was stopped by their families – the Germans had threatened that they would kill them if anyone was missing from the ghetto.
When Baruch received a sign that his mother was alive in Vilna, he managed to get a permit to leave the ghetto and returned to Vilna where he worked in factories that produced for the Germans. Here he set up another underground, with his friend Yaacov Kushkin, and they bought pistols. He later joined the FPO (United Partisan Organization) underground. He then joined a Russian paratrooper unit and took part in various operations such as derailing trains, blowing up communication posts and bridges and attacking German units. In July 1944 the Red Army conquered Vilna. Baruch reached the city only to find that all his family had been murdered.
In Israel, he joined an aeronautics course, and advanced from shop floor managerial positions to become the aeronautics engineer of the company, chief aeronautics engineer of El Al, and instructor. He has been active for many years in maintaining the memory of the Holocaust. He is chairman of the Organization of Partisans, Underground Fighters and Ghetto Rebels, and is a member of the Yad Vashem management and directorate. He also lectures on the subject of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He and his wife Nelly have two children and eight grandchildren.
Yaacov Zim was born in 1920 in Sosnovitz, Poland. He escaped the Holocaust thanks to a German who had heard of his talents as a painter and asked him to set up and manage a workshop for applied art. Here Yaacov, his two brothers and 120 other young people, most of them members of the Zionist youth movement, were temporarily safe from deportation. In August 1943, the ghetto was shut down, and Yaacov managed to escape the place where they had been told to gather before being deported to Auschwitz. He joined a group taken to a work camp in Silesia, which was later taken over by the SS and became a branch of Auschwitz.
As the Red Army approached, the prisoners were taken on the Death March. He and his brothers help each other stumble through the snow, and reached Buchenwald where they were liberated. They were sent to France for rehabilitation, and from there came to Israel. Yaacov fulfilled his dream and continued his art studies at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, where he met Ruth who became his wife.
In his book "Shevarim ve'Or" he described his life during the Holocaust, while a book of his art includes paintings that tell the story of the events of that time and express his optimism – the secret of his survival. Yaacov and Ruth have four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944, when Sara was 7 years old, Sara and her family were sent to the ghetto. In June they were put onto the train trucks and taken to a factory for undergarments in a concentration camp on the way to Auschwitz. Instead of being sent to Auschwitz, the family was taken to Budapest and put into a camp on Columbus Street. When the communists came to power after the war, the borders of Hungary were sealed. Sara and her brothers joined the Gordonia underground movement, and with its help left Hungary illegally and came to Israel in December 1949.
Sara grew up on kibbutzim, and has been a member of Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim for 50 years. She has worked in various posts, including managing the kibbutz guesthouse, coordinating volunteer groups, and assisting in preserving archive documents. She also volunteers in an organization that supports Holocaust survivors. She and her husband, Bezalel Z"L, have two children and two grandchildren.
Leo, 83 years old, was born in Vienna to a traditional (religious) and Zionist family. On Krystalnacht, Leo saw his synagogue go up in flames. His father was arrested, and returned home some days later beaten up and injured. During the time he was detained, the neighbor refused to have anything to do with the family, and they moved to a single-room apartment in the basement. In 1940, Leo's sister Haya managed to enter Palestine illegally.
In 1942 Leo and his parents were sent to the Terezin ghetto. Leo worked in the kitches and managed to pass on his food stamps to his parents and friends. In September 1944 Leo and his family were sent to Auschwitz. His father was sent to the gas chambers. Leo had a number tattooed on his arm and was sent to Gleiwitz camp where he worked as a carpenter for repairing rail carriages. In January 1945 he was taken on the Death March, which he survived, and reached another camp. After a few days, the guards fled, and Leo left to look for food and his friends. In one of the huts he encountered an SS officer who shot all those looking for food. Leo hid himself among the bodies and thus managed to survive.
After the war, Leo wandered about Poland and Germany and found his mother. In 1949 they came to Israel and met up with his sister Haya whom he hadn't seen for some 10 years. He began working in a hospital, and later worked for 30 years in the Austrian Embassy until his retirement in 1991. Leo is among the founders of an organization for people from Austria and remains active in its management. He assists survivors in claiming rights from the Austrian government and works to keep the memory of Austria's murdered Jews alive. He and his wife Shoshana have a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.
Hannah, 75 years old, was born in Biala Rawska, in Poland. At the end of 1941 the ghetto was set up in the town, but the family was permitted to live outside the ghetto because Hannah's mother sewed for the German occupation troops. They wanted to hide Hannah with a Polish family until the end of the war, but Hannah refused to leave her parents and came with them to their hiding place – a hole in ground used to store potatoes that belonged to a Polish family.
At the end of 1942 the Jews of the town were sent to Treblinka. Her father tried to obtain fake documents but their neighbor managed to obtain only two – for Hannah and her mother. The two were hidden in Warsaw for two years by Righteous Gentiles. Hannah's mother helped in cleaning, cooking, sewing and preparing lessons for the children. For two years Hannah sat with her ear to the door to listen for approaching footsteps.
In January 1949 Hannah came to Israel, and since then she has lived in Tel Aviv. She studied nursing and worked as a nurse in public health in the Ajami neighborhood, where she managed the Tipat Halav center for young mothers. As a sign of her dedicated work, Hannah was awarded the Namir prize. She continued as a nurse in Tel Aviv until her retirement. With assistance from Naomi Morgenstern, Hannah wrote "I wanted to fly like a butterfly," in which she describes her life during the Holocaust. She is married to Yitzhak, and is the mother of Ofer and grandmother to three grandchildren.