Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008
Speech of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Yad Vashem Chairman of the Council, Holocaust Survivor at the Special Event Promoting Tolerance Throughout the European Continent
Members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen
First of all, I want to thank the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Jewish Congress for the invitation to come here on this very particular date – November 10 th. Seventy years after the pogrom, after the brutal night which they call die Kristallnacht. I want to share few words with you.
President of the European Parliament and my dear friend Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor asked me in their letter to relate to the past and to the present. To the past – what is the background, what are the reasons, how could it happen? This brutal night which was so perfectly described by the President. How could it happen? Why?
And to speak about the steps which must be taken to prevent such a horror in the future. Mr. Kantor already related to some steps – I am not going to repeat them. I want to tell you something else.
My friend, an author of a book about the Holocaust, survivor of Auschwitz, witness in Adolf Eichmann trial which took place in Jerusalem – Yehiel De-Nur, or Yehiel Feiner – well known as Ka-Tzetnik, the pseudonym of the author – never appeared in public after the Holocaust, except at the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem. He witness was the shortest, because he fainted after a moment or two. But it was one of the most impressive witnesses. He described the picture – in Auschwitz, when people came out of the trains. A place where there were no flowers, children were not being born at that place. And he called it a different planet – Auschwitz.
I had more than two or three conversations with him later. I opposed him. I opposed this thinking and this expression – that Auschwitz was on a different planet.
It was here. On our planet. In our homeland Poland, on this continent – Europe, and it happened here. It was done by people who loved music – violins, pianos. Flowers they loved. They brought up their own children – after brutally killing babies and children of the Jewish people in masses.
My colleague Sam Pisar as a boy at that time, me as a child remember always asking the question you asked me in the letter – everyone in his language. Lachego… Pourquoi…Why…What did I do? What was my crime? Why did you beat me? Why did you make me starving and freezing? Why did you murder my parents? A brother of thirteen years. Yesterday sixty six years ago he went to Treblinka and never came back. Thirteen years old. Why? Is there any reason, any logic? Was I your enemy? National Socialist Party was afraid of me? Did I threaten them?
No answer. Seventy years later we, human beings, have no answer. We can try to explain anti-Semitism. Not only you cannot justify it, you cannot really explain it.
When we were in Warsaw, people – some people used to say – they hate the Jews because they are so strange. Look at their appearance, their language – they don’t speak Polish, they speak Yiddish. Their mentality! Look at them – their clothes, their beards, their hats. If they were equal – we would give them all the rights.
One kilometer from Poland is Germany. The Jews in Germany didn’t wear beards, or black long coats, and they spoke German beautifully. And they were involved in all fields of society – musicians, authors, philosophers, industrialists – commerce, literature, science. So how can you explain this logic – this un-logic: when you are different – we hate you. When you are too close to us, equal to us – we hate you as well.
You could see graffiti – and then, and till the very last day: go to Palestine! Juifs, Jews – go to Palestine! It means we hate you because you are here, among us, you disturb us. Go to your home, have your country, have a state of your own. Be equal like us, a member even of the UN Assembly, and we will be friends. We have nothing against you.
So we went to Palestine. So-called Palestine. They hate us there because we are there. They hated us here because we were here.
So do you have a reply? Is there any logic, any sense? As Shakespeare said, is the color of our blood different? Same red color as for all human beings. So I have no explanation to the events of that pogrom. As it was very smartly said here, Kristallnacht was just the beginning of WWII, of the Holocaust, and the test, as Mr. Kantor said, to see what will be the reaction of the free world. How will they react.
Nazi German made it very smart. Kyiv – you brought us to Babi Yar sixty-five years after it happened – in 1941. Before Wannsee Conference, before the program of the final solution. It was also a test. What will the world say? The world said – there were some headlines in some newspapers, some speeches in some parliaments. C’est tout. That’s all. Nothing but it. So he understood that he had free hands to do what he promised in his book Mein Kampf of 1923 already.
What will be tomorrow? You were so kind to open the door for us, to speak and to share with you some of our emotions, not only thoughts. What will be tomorrow? Anti-Semitism is still here. Even late Pope John Paul II told me in September 1993, I will quote exactly: “I do believe that a picture of the two of us – both born in Poland – shaking hands – me and chief rabbi of Israel – will pull away the carpet from under the feet of those primitivskis – he said in Polish accent – who still blame you – Jewish people, our senior brothers, - for a crime you never did.” He believed. He was an optimist. He condemned anti-Semitism in 120 countries he visited as the Pope.
But still – you have this phenomenon, here and there, all the time. What can we do? We have to mobilize spiritual and religious leaders, to mobilize the educational system in all the countries, and to mobilize the media everywhere, and to teach them one lesson – a Biblical lesson. A historic biblical idea I want to share with you and to finish my words with this.
Isaiah – the prophet – in Chapter 11 describes the peace in the world to come in the future.
A wolf will live together with a lamb. A tiger will dwell together with a goose. A cow will be together in the field with a bear. A baby – together with a snake. And no harm, no damage – nothing will happen. All the beasts and other animals will live together in peace. This is the prophecy of Isaiah, Chapter 11.
In Lublin was a very famous rabbi – the last rabbi before the Holocaust, Meir Shapiro, a member of the Seim in Poland, who built the Yeshiva which still exists. He asked a very simple question: “What is so fantastic in the prophecy of Isaiah? It happened already in mankind’s history.” Take the Bible, the same Bible - in the Book of Genesis, Chapters 6, 7,8 and 9 describe the Flood of water which happened in Noah’s time, in the 10th generation of the era. There was an ark that Noah built for the survival of his family, himself and all the animals. In than ark they lived together – snakes, and children, and bears, and cows, and geese, and tigers, and leopards, and wolfs, and lions. . There was an ark that Noah built for the survival of his family, himself and all the animals. In than ark they lived together – snakes, and children, and bears, and cows, and geese, and tigers, and leopards, and wolfs, and lions.
And everyone came out of the ark, you see them today. They exist, they survived. So it happened already. So what is so great in the prophecy of Isaiah? The answer is - all the animals dwelled in peace in that ark, because they had no choice. There was no alternative. They knew that outside is the flood, the destruction. Intuitively every animal understood – felt, that if they do something wrong, Noah would send them out of the ark, it’s for them – a liquidation. So they had to behave nicely because of no choice. Isaiah speaks about the future when he will come: no floods, no disasters, no common enemies – no enemies at all. In spite of that, we will understand – from good will and from free choice – we have to dwell together.
Ladies and Gentlemen, today we are not in the time of Isaiah yet. We are in the time of Noah. There are common enemies – after the flood of water, after the flames of fire of WWII we crossed – we have common enemies like ignorance, hatred, violence, crime, diseases –heart, brain, AIDS, cancer - starvation, poverty. Don’t we have enemies? Is mankind saved already?
18,000 children die of starvation daily in Asia and Africa, according to the UN report by Mr. James, the head of the committee of health and welfare of the UN. Since we started this evening here, in the Parliament, one thousand children died of starvation.
So we have common enemies. Let’s shake hands. Let us, human beings, at least understand what animals understood in the ark – we must dwell together. We must understand it! The media, the educational system, and religious and spiritual leaders, and the politicians of course, who have the power – come together, sit together, have a dialogue, speak in order to promise that this – or a kind of this – will never reappear, will never be again, and the eternity of mankind will be promised for future.