On January 26, 1945, Russian soldiers arrived at the gates of Auschwitz and
liberated the Nazi death camp where over a million Jews had been systematically
murdered. Sixty years later, upon this anniversary, some notable sentiments
were expressed in both Israel and Germany, by the leaders of each country.
The first selection shown here is a speech by the Prime Minister of Israel,
Ariel Sharon, at a special session of the Knesset (Israel's Legislature) held
each year to mark the struggle against anti-Semitism. The second selection
is by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and was given in Berlin at a
commemoration organized by the International Auschwitz Committee, attended
by Holocaust survivors.
For the second year, we mark the day commemorating the State of Israel's
struggle against anti-Semitism. We chose to mark this day of struggle
against anti-Semitism on the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
death camp, that horrible symbol of the Holocaust.
The Allies knew of the annihilation of the Jews. They knew and did
nothing. On April 19, 1943, the Bermuda Conference gathered, with the
participation of representatives from Britain and the United States, in
order to discuss saving the Jews of Europe. In fact, the participants
did everything in their power to avoid dealing with the problem. All
the suggestions for rescue operations which the Jewish organizations presented
were rejected. They simply did not want to deal with it.
The Bermuda Conference was nothing more than a continuation of the shocking
story of the "Ship of the Damned," and the Saint Louis, which
set sail from Germany in 1939 with 1,000 Jews who had succeeded in
escaping from the Third Reich on board. The passengers knocked on the
doors of Cuba and ports in the eastern United States, but were refused sanctuary
and were forced to return to the shores of Europe. Most of them were
murdered in the death camps.
The leadership of the British Mandate displayed the same obtuseness and
insensitivity by locking the gates to Israel to Jewish refugees who sought
a haven in the Land of Israel. Thus were rejected the requests of the
769 passengers of the ship Struma who escaped from Europe -- and
all but one found their deaths at sea.
Throughout the war, nothing was done to stop the annihilation. When, in
the summer of 1944, the mass deportations in Hungary were carried out, the
Allies did not bomb the train tracks which led to Auschwitz from Hungary,
nor the murder facilities in Birkenau, and this was despite the fact that
they had the ability to do so. Allied planes attacked targets near
Auschwitz, but they refused to bomb the camp itself, in which 10,000 Jews
were murdered daily. Thus were 618,000 Jews annihilated in a number
of weeks -- the Jews of Hungary.
Mr. Speaker, the sad and horrible conclusion is that no one cared that Jews
were being murdered.
"Do not put your trust in men in power," said the poet of the Psalms. And
indeed, during the most terrible, critical hour, those in power and the
declared friends did not lift a finger. This is the Jewish lesson of
the Holocaust and this is the lesson which Auschwitz taught us, the enchained
The State of Israel has learned this lesson, and since its establishment
it has done its utmost to defend itself and its citizens, and provide a
safe haven for any Jew, wherever he may be. We know that we can trust
no one but ourselves.
This phenomenon of Jews defending themselves and fighting back is anathema
to the new anti-Semites. Legitimate steps of self-defense which Israel
takes in its war against Palestinian terrorist -- actions which any sovereign
state is obligated to undertake to ensure the security of its citizens -- are
presented by those who hate Israel as aggressive, "Nazi-like" steps.
Many of the manifestations of anti-Semitism in the past years are no longer
aimed only at Jews as individuals. Rather, they are aimed at the embodiment
of all Jews: the State of Israel, the Jewish state. As early as
1967, in "A Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend," Dr. Martin Luther King wrote
that anti-Zionism is no less than disguised anti-Semitism.
I quote: "The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly
a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the anti-Semite must constantly
seek new forms and forums for his poison. He does not hate the Jews, he
is just 'anti-Zionist!' My friend, when people criticize Zionism, they
mean Jews -- make no mistake about it."
These days, the generation that was witness to the horrors is disappearing,
and ignorance is increasing. Fewer people around the world have heard
of the Holocaust or are aware of what happened in Auschwitz, and the manifestations
of anti-Semitism are on the rise. Sixty years after the liberation
of Auschwitz, the evil that gave rise to the horror still exists and
still threatens us.
Israel stands with governments, as well as Jewish and international organizations
around the world, that remember Auschwitz and are determined to fight this
evil uncompromisingly and relentlessly.
We will continue to act tirelessly in order to ensure that the memory of
Auschwitz and the lessons of the Holocaust will not be forgotten, so that
Auschwitz will never again return.
Israel is a very small country, blessed with talented and courageous people. However,
it must always be remembered that this is the only place in the world where
we, the Jews, have the right and the capability to defend ourselves, by
ourselves. And we will never relinquish this.
It is our historic responsibility. It is my personal historic responsibility.
Speech by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
at the 'Deutsches Theater' in Berlin on January 25, 2005
Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the International Auschwitz Committee for the invitation
to speak to you here today.
In my estimation an invitation of this kind is still not something that can
be taken for granted. It would be fitting for us Germans to remain silent
in the face of what was the greatest crime in the history of mankind. Words
by government leaders are inadequate when confronted with the absolute immorality
and senselessness of the murder of millions.
We look for rational understanding of something that is beyond human comprehension.
We seek definitive answers, but in vain.
What is left is the testimony of those few who survived and their descendants.
What is left are the remains of the sites of these murders and the historical
What is left also is the certainty that these extermination camps were a
manifestation of absolute evil.
Evil is not a political or scientific category. But, after Auschwitz, who
could doubt that it exists, and that it manifested itself in the hate-driven
genocide carried out by the Nazi regime? However, noting this fact does not
permit us to circumvent our responsibility by blaming everything on a demonic
Hitler. The evil manifested in the Nazi ideology was not without its precursors.
There was a tradition behind the rise of this brutal ideology and the accompanying
loss of moral inhibition. Above all, it needs to be said that the Nazi ideology
was something that people supported at the time and that they took part in
putting into effect.
Now, sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, I stand
before you as the representative of a democratic Germany. I express my shame
for the deaths of those who were murdered and for the fact that you, the survivors,
were forced to go through the hell of a concentration camp.
Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maidanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau are
names that will forever be associated with the history of the victims as well
as with German and European history. We know that.
We bear this burden with sadness, but also with a serious sense of responsibility.
Millions of men, women, and children were gassed, starved, or shot by German
SS troops and their helpers.
Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, POWs, and resistance fighters
from across Europe were exterminated with cold industrial perfection or were
enslaved and worked to death.
Never before had there been a worse breakdown of thousands of years of
European culture and civilization. After the war it took some time before
the full extent of this breakdown was realized. We are aware of it, but
I doubt that we will ever be able to understand it. The past cannot be "overcome."
It is the past. But its traces and, above all, the lessons to be learned
from it extend to the present.
There will never be anything that can make up for the horror, the torment,
and the agony that took place in the concentration camps. It is only possible
to provide the families of those who died and the survivors a certain amount
Germany has faced this responsibility for a long period of time now with
its government policies and court decisions, supported by a sense of justice
on the part of the people.
The young men and women in the photo we see here were freed in the summer
of 1945. Most survivors went in different directions after their liberation:
to Israel, to North and South America, to neighboring European countries,
or back to their countries of origin.
However, some of them stayed in or returned to Germany, the country where
the so-called 'Final Solution' originated.
It was an extraordinarily difficult decision for them, and often enough it
was not a voluntary decision, but rather the result of total desperation.
However, hope did return to their disrupted lives, and many did remain in
Germany, and we are grateful for that.
Today the Jewish community in Germany is the third-largest in Europe. It
is full of vitality and growing rapidly. New synagogues are being built. The
Jewish community is and will remain an irreplaceable part of our society and
culture. Its brilliant as well as painful history will continue to be both
an obligation and a promise for the future.
We will use the powers of government to protect it against the anti-Semitism
of those who refuse to learn the lessons of the past. There is no denying
that anti-Semitism continues to exist. It is the task of society as a whole
to fight it. It must never again become possible for anti-Semites to attack
and cause injury to Jewish citizens in our country or any other country and
in doing so bring disgrace upon our nation.
Right-wing extremists, with their spray-painted slogans, have the special
attention of our law enforcement and justice authorities. But the process
of dealing politically with neo-Nazis and former Nazis is something we all
need to do together.
It is the duty of all democrats to provide a strong response to neo-Nazi
incitement and recurrent attempts on their part to play down the importance
of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime. For the enemies of democracy
and tolerance there can be no tolerance.
The survivors of Auschwitz have called upon us to be vigilant, not to look
away, and not to pretend we don't hear things. They have called upon us to
acknowledge human rights violations and to do something about them. They are
being heard, particularly by young people, for instance by those who are looking
at the Auschwitz memorial today with their own eyes. They are speaking with
former prisoners. They are helping to maintain and preserve the memorial.
They will also help to inform future generations of the crimes committed by
the Nazi regime.
The vast majority of the Germans living today bear no guilt for the Holocaust.
But they do bear a special responsibility. Remembrance of the war and the
genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime has become part of our living constitution.
For some this is a difficult burden to bear.
Nonetheless this remembrance is part of our national identity. Remembrance
of the Nazi era and its crimes is a moral obligation. We owe it to the victims,
we owe it to the survivors and their families, and we owe it to ourselves.
It is true, the temptation to forget is very great. But we will not succumb
to this temptation.
The Holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin cannot restore the lives or
the dignity of the victims. It can perhaps serve survivors and their descendants
as a symbol of their suffering. It serves us all as a reminder of the past.
We know one thing for sure. There would be no freedom, no human dignity,
and no justice if we were to forget what happened when freedom, justice, and
human dignity were desecrated by government power. Exemplary efforts are being
undertaken in many German schools, in companies, in labor unions, and in the
churches. Germany is facing up to its past.
From the Shoa and Nazi terror a certainty has arisen for us all that can
best be expressed by the words "never again." We want to preserve
this certainty. All Germans, but also all Europeans, and the entire international
community need to continue to learn to live together with respect, humanity,
and in peace.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
was a direct effect of the Holocaust on international law. It requires people
of different cultural, religious, and racial origins to respect and protect
life and human dignity throughout the world. You in the International Auschwitz
Committee support this with the exemplary work you are doing in the interest
of all people.
Together with you I bow my head before the victims of the death camps. Even
if one day the names of the victims should fade in the memory of mankind,
their fate will not be forgotten. They will remain in the heart of history.