In a defiant speech coming from the place symbolizing the suffering of Jews during World War II, Israel's prime minister warned on Thursday that the Jewish state will do everything to prevent another Holocaust and to defend itself against any threat.
Benjamin Netanyahu spoke during the inauguration of a new pavilion at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz that is to educate visitors about the Holocaust and Nazi’s quest to exterminate Jews. Auschwitz with adjacent Birkenau was the most notorious of a system of death camps that Nazi Germany built and operated in occupied Poland.
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"The Allied leaders knew about the Holocaust as it was happening. They understood perfectly what was taking place in the death camps. They were asked to act, they could have acted, and they did not," Netanyahu said, as he stood in front of the red-brick former prisoner block that houses the new exhibition.
"For us Jews, the lesson is clear. We must not stand idle before the threats of annihilation. We must not bury our heads in the sand, or let others do our work. From here, the place that provides testimony for the will to eradicate us, I, the prime minister of Israel, the Jewish state, tell all the nations of the world: The State of Israel will do whatever is necessary to prevent a second Holocaust.” the PM said.
Netanyahu at Block 27, Thursday (Photo: Kobi Gideon, GPO)
Before the speech, he visited Block 27, which is now dedicated to presenting Auschwitz in the larger context of the World War II genocide. More than 1.1 million of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Among some 4.2 million names of Holocaust victims listed, page after page, on a 14-meter (yard) -long list, Netanyahu found the name of Yehudit Hun, the twin sister of his late father-in-law, killed in Bilgoraj, southeastern Poland.
Exhibition at Block 27 (Photo: Eldad Beck, Yedioth Ahronoth reporter)
(Photo: Eldad Beck, Yedioth Ahronoth reporter)
"If there are Holocaust deniers, have them come to Block 27 and go over one name at a time," Netanyahu said in clear reference to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who questions the extent of the Holocaust.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu and a delegation of five Israeli ministers travelling with him met with their Polish counterparts in a joint government session.
Responding to a reporter's question about the threat from Iran, Netanyahu said: "This is a regime that is building nuclear weapons with the expressed purpose to annihilate Israel's 6 million Jews. We will not allow this to happen. We will never allow another Holocaust."
The exhibition was curated by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. It aims to provide the backdrop of the Holocaust, the Nazi Germany's ideology for murder, and the physical and spiritual struggle of its victims. It also includes survivor testimonies and drawings by some of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.
The Germans carried out the Holocaust to a large extent in occupied Poland, because it had Europe's largest Jewish population and it was at the heart of a railway network that allowed the Nazis to easily transport Jews there from elsewhere in Europe. Many Israeli leaders are children of Holocaust survivors, and Israel has the world's largest population of survivors.
In recent years, Poland has become one of the friendliest states to Israel.
Piotr Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, said on Wednesday "It's an extremely new perception of an exhibition. It doesn't tell a story like in a history book. It's a very strong place for education, for conveying awareness of the Holocaust."
In 1978, the Polish authorities decided to turn Block 27 in Auschwitz into an exhibition dedicated to the Jewish victims of the death and concentration camp. Although one million of the 1.2 million people murdered in the camp were Jewish, its communist liberators concealed that painful fact and the exhibition referred to all the murdered as victims of Fascism.
The exhibit first dedicated to the Jews was not fully backed by the authorities, as they saw most of those murdered at Auschwitz as Poles, and the place was seriously neglected for decades and some of the exhibits were stolen.
In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site. Shocked by what he saw, he decided to revamp the permanent exhibition on the premises. The plan's execution was inherited by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who tasked Yad Vashem with redesigning the memorial.
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said, "We wanted to do something that would not be similar to things that already exist. In spite of the pressure, I felt that if we only present historical things in the exhibition, we'll be missing out on something.
"A total of 1.4 million people visited Auschwitz last year, and only few of them arrived at the pavilions of the exhibit, which is not part of the general exhibition. We wanted the exhibition to be included in the route and decided to establish an exhibition which would allow a short visit, convey strong and to-the-point messages, and make an impression, especially on young visitors."
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