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< Mission and History

Chaim Herzog


Greetings by the President of Israel, Mr. Chaim Herzog, at the Dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 22, 1993

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, my distinguished colleagues and Heads of State, Your Excellencies the former Presidents of the United States, Your Excellencies, Mr. Meyerhoff, Mr. Wiesel, Ladies and Gentlemen.

This historic occasion taking place in the capital city of the leader of the free world, is so pregnant with significance as to make it impossible in a short period of time to encompass all that it represents.

50 years ago the Jewish people for whom I, President of the Jewish State, serve as a spokesman here, were victims of a society and a philosophy which sank to the lowest depths of bestial cruelty. Six million Jews -- one third of our people -- were annihilated by the enormously efficient machine set up by the Nazis and their collaborators in many of the countries of Europe. The misery brought to the world by Nazism took a heavy toll in many countries, in addition to the price paid by my people.

In Jerusalem, but a few days ago, in the world Jewish Center of Remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust -- Yad Vashem -- I addressed a nation part of which had literally risen out of the ashes. I looked at the survivors of the Holocaust who had come to the haven of our people, which is Israel, who had embarked on a new life and had built a new society of which we are so proud. I saw their children and grandchildren for whom the Holocaust is but a memory, a nightmare which their parents and grandparents have recounted to them. This is a nightmare brought to life in our consciousness by the numbers tattooed on the arms of the survivors who are still with us.

Again, but a few days ago the people of Israel, the representatives of the Jewish People and the people of Poland, led by President Lech Walesa, commemorated in Warsaw the 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In that uprising 700 scantily armed young men and women fought off thousands of well-equipped German troops in an incredible 27 days of heroic fighting. For them resistance signified defiant courage and faith in the future of the Jewish people.

The flame lit in Warsaw continues to burn in our memory, inspiring participation in the Israel War of Independence and subsequent struggles for life. For the legacy of heroism and dedication, our people will be forever grateful.

While the national memory of our people must be enshrined in our homeland, in our capital city, Jerusalem, it is part of the memory of the Jewish people throughout the world. It is part of the conscience of all peoples in the free world.

How appropriate are the words of the Psalmist:

“For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

We here today, Americans, Israelis, and the representatives of many other countries, commemorate an historic turning point of such extraordinary horror and evil that it dare not be forgotten -- the Holocaust, that great lesson in man’s capacity for inhumanity, when moral restraints are cast aside.

Despite random but despicable and disturbing attempts at denial, we know that there has never been anything like that gigantic, industrialized death machine, exterminating hundreds and thousands daily as a matter of course, and aiming to eliminate the entire Jewish people and its culture.

I speak here not only as the President of Israel just arrived from Jerusalem, but as one whose own life was touched marginally but deeply by the Holocaust. Many of my family, men, women and children, were destroyed in the Nazi gas chambers. As a young officer from Palestine, as it was then, serving in the British Army, one of a million and a half Jewish soldiers serving in the Allied Forces, I was a member of the first Allied division to cross the German border in the West. As we advanced we encountered the still hardly known horror of the concentration camps. Nobody who saw those terrifying scenes will ever forget them. I was later one of a small group to whom Himmler, chief perpetrator of the vast ghastly murder surrendered, and was present at the surrender of the northern German army, Armee Gruppe Ems. When we reached Bergen Belsen, we were shattered by the horrifying evidence of starvation, torture and disease, and by the final epidemic of typhus raging there. To one who has seen anything of the Holocaust even marginally, it ceases to be an abstract concept and becomes a searing actuality never to be forgotten.

In this audience are many who survived the ghastly horrors of the concentration camps after having seen their near ones and dear ones annihilated, including some of the one-and-a-half million innocent Jewish children who were exterminated. A few years ago, on the occasion of the first historic State Visit to the Federal Republic of Germany by the President of Israel, President von Weizsäcker escorted me to the same camp, Bergen Belsen, and shared the agony of remembrance. Indeed, my State Visits as President of Israel took me to a number of concentration camps in Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland and in Holland. In each of these camps we dedicated a rock from the hills of Jerusalem, bearing the words of the psalm, “and my sorrow is forever before me,” and I swore on behalf of my people never to forget, never to forgive.

For us in Israel, which was to become the refuge of hundreds of thousands of survivors, the claims of rehabilitation and new life are paramount. We lament the many who might have been with us, and we sorrow for the vitality and talents lost, not only to us but to humanity as a whole. Sadly recalling that there were those who knew and didn’t act, we are determined to maintain a strong, viable and independent country based on the memories of the past, the hopes for the future, the dignity of man and the equality of all before God, a tower of strength, a haven when needed.

The United States of America led the free world to victory in the struggle against evil, against the Nazi regime and its allies in so many countries in Europe. It led the free world in demolishing and eradicating the wicked Nazi and Fascist regimes. It has always been in the forefront of the struggle against wickedness and tyranny as it was, indeed, but two years ago in Operation Desert Storm.

Its major role in bringing this Museum into being is a natural corollary of its defense of freedom. The governments of the United States led by the Presidents -- past and present -- have, in keeping with the great traditions of this country, and mindful of the lessons to be learnt for humanity, generously contributed to the establishment of this centre. In this too the United States has adopted its natural role of leadership for which all free people in the world must be forever grateful. In this connection I wish to pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Council, headed by Mr. Harvey Meyerhoff, for its enterprise and successful achievement which is evident before our eyes today.

Nazism, Fascism and Racism have taught us and revealed to us the depth to which the human being can descend. For us, one of the major lessons has been that it is not sufficient to have justice on your side, it is essential to be strong enough to defend it. We learnt that there is only one answer to dictatorship and tyranny and that is to stand up and fight and meet challenges head on.

For my people and for the State of Israel, the memory of the victims of the Holocaust is not only treasured as a memory, but as a moral imperative which binds us.

But how are new generations, removed in time, to learn the lessons of the Holocaust so that mankind learns its lesson and we are all convinced that such tragedies can never be duplicated? How much a museum can do we have learnt in Israel from the role played by the main central and universal Holocaust memorial institution, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The details recalled by the fraction that survived, the historic evidence painstakingly gathered, are all stones in the structure of commemoration.

May this new museum, situated in the capital of the free world, in exposing the unspeakable evil and suffering of the Holocaust, strengthen the commitment to life, to tolerance and human kinship, among all who visit it, indeed, among the generations to come.