President Kwasniewski, President Katsav, Vice President Mr. Cheney, our Chairman these days, and Mr. Yushchenko and all of you who are Presidents and Prime Ministers gathered here in a holy alliance, an alliance for memory, nobility and justice.
And to you, my young students, I am grateful for your words, for the faith that we have in you and which, I am sure, you will justify with your words and your behavior. Let me tell you what I think about this gathering and in general about the theme, the obsession perhaps of what is happening today.
I always believed that life is not made of years, but of moments. And I hope that this gathering will be a moment in your life, which means that whenever you will think of our faithless humanity, the darkness of the soul of certain people, the bottomless agony that some of us carry in our memoir, in our memory, in our life, which is not something that would erase hope, but on the contrary, would give it a new dimension, a special dimension that this moment accompany you, young, old, leaders and advisors and friends.
When I came a few years ago with my wife to Birkenau and I thought of what I have seen there, after all, the murder of a million Jews, the murder of children. For the first time in Jewish history, the victims have not been brought to what we call, Kever Israel, have not been buried. They went up into Heaven and Heaven became our cemetery, and that cemetery is in our heart. And when I thought about it, I, of course we are taking the word in terms of prayer, and I then composed a prayer. And I said: ‘God of Mercy, do not have mercy on those who killed Jewish children. God of Compassion, do not have compassion for those who murdered Jewish children and their parents and grandparents.’ No! I am not saying we should broaden the scope of responsibility or surely not of guilt. I do not believe in collective guilt, but the guilty should be remembered for their guilt. When I came there, I came straight out of a Yeshiva studying Talmud and we, Jews from Hungary, we had no idea what Auschwitz meant, nor where it was. May 1944, a few weeks before D-Day, we had no idea because no one cared to tell us not to board the trains.
And then we arrived. You know the story, you read about it. And it took a moment, just a moment, also one of those moments and we were separated. And my father and I, already alone, were walking towards the flames when one of these under-commanders, or the colonel-commanders came to tell us, ‘You see those flames? You’re going there.’ I didn’t believe it. I said, ‘It’s impossible; we are in the middle of the 20th century. The world would not be silent!’ The world was silent. And all of a sudden, I swear to you, I said if this is true, that may mean the end of the Jewish people. Because people from all over the Diaspora, speaking all the languages, coming from all backgrounds, better feeling the kind of gathering of the exiles, brought to the end of Jewish history.
Well, it was not; it was a very tragic chapter. And then, January 27, I was already in Buchenwald with my father. My father died in Auschwitz, although he died later on in Buchenwald. And really he died on the 18 of [the Hebrew month of] Shvat, which is the 27th of January, which is also the birthday of the person who is the love of my life.
How can you, how can you go away from here with the knowledge that you have gathered and be the same, my good friends, important leaders, young people?!
My good friends, if you after this day will be the same, then we have lost an encounter with this memory, which now you are the custodians of, must do something to you and through you to the whole world and put an end to the curse of hatred, to the scourge of anti-Semitism, to racism, bigotry, hatred. Hatred is a cancer, it goes from limb to limb, from person to person, from group to group, so you have seen here and through us you have heard words. Let these words remain with you.
And so students who gave this declaration, now you are our messengers. Let this message be an awakening but also, somehow it must be filled with hope as well. Because logically, in 1945, the Jewish people could have had a collective nervous breakdown. It did not. Surely it was thanks to the fact that the ancient dream of Israel moved them to action, to a new commitment, there may have been other reasons as well, mystical or metaphysical, but the fact is that more than ever after 1945 those who were here, not far from here in Birkenau, became much more active, more energetic, more committed. Now you are in solidarity with us and for this I am very grateful.