The Creator keeps testing us in order to head us off the path of idleness to the way of eternity. Facing one of the cruellest tragedies of the twentieth century, we must understand what actually happened sixty-five years ago in the place called Babi Yar, and what its place is in human history.
Once a year every Jew in the whole world must go before the Creator and answer the most vital question – whether to continue living or not. This day is called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This was the day chosen for executing the first thirty thousand of Kyiv’s Jews. Today, we can only begin to imagine the terror of both religious and non-believing Jews residing in the city.
Starting in 1933, step by careful step, the Nazis were testing the world’s tolerance for its intolerance. First, they deprived Jews of their right to walk on the sidewalk, then of their right to have their own names (all men were called Israel and women – Sarah). Then it was the right to have their teeth treated, the right to own property, the right to freedom and, finally, the right to life.
It was at Babi Yar that the Nazis became certain that Europe would keep silent, as the German people had after die Kristallnacht, and as the whole world would remain silent when it learned about Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps.
For centuries, spores of the most devastating human diseases – tuberculosis, bubonic plague, xenophobia and anti-Semitism – have lain, with no sun and fresh air, between the pages of the oldest books of the Romans and Greeks.
Our forums are the universal antibiotic for hatred towards so called “others.” We must carry out this pasteurisation as soon as possible. For that reason, it was with gratitude that we learned of the initiative to hold the third World Holocaust Forum in Berlin in November 2008 to mark seventy years since die Kristallnacht.
All heads of state, leaders of state and public organisations, young people, and Righteous among the Nations, who saved people at the cost of their lives, have come here united in their understanding that we are committed to remembering these tragic days, which were a turning point in the development of later history.
When we say “Let My People Live!” we mean that, in the long run, a nation will prosper only if it guards the life of each individual. A nation will prosper only if it refuses to set people in opposition to each other, whatever the reason may be – economic, religious or for any other reason.
Hero of Ukraine Anatoly Shapiro, the Red Army major who opened the gates of the death camp at the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Peter Zvi Malkin, who captured Adolph Eichmann, have both passed away since the first World Holocaust Forum in Krakow. Many Righteous among the Nations have passed on.
We are pleased to have with us today Major Anatoly Shapiro’s granddaughter, who will accept from the President of Ukraine a much-deserved honour – title of Hero of Ukraine and its People.
And we praise the Lord and rejoice that many of the one hundred and twenty Righteous among the Nations are with us still. Among them are Liudmila Zavorotnaya, Inna Yevgenyeva, Galina Bebykh, Olga Roshchenko, Liubov Ostapenko and many others. Our gratitude to them knows no bounds.
If not for them, we would not be able to meet with Rabbi Lau today, a Buchenwald prisoner who was rescued from starvation and execution by a Russian soldier named Fyodor. We would not have President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, the initiator and patron of our Forum, whose father was an Auschwitz prisoner. We would not have President Moshe Katsav, because the State of Israel would not exist. I would not be here, either, since out of all my relatives, only my father and his brother survived the mass murder in Zaporizhzhya because they were serving in the Red Army. It is only now that I begin to understand what my father told me forty years ago “They stopped trusting me to accompany convoys of Nazi prisoners of war.”
We don’t want our children to love Buchenwald as we did, now that we are aware of Auschwitz. We don’t want our children to love only the “first circle,” unaware of the large and diverse world. We don’t want cartoons that provoke people. Today, cartoons on the theme of the Holocaust are aimed at provoking those who hold this tragedy sacred and who can, as my father did, fight back against the indignities.
Three months ago, occasionally I bought at a small price at a flea-market in Italy two pieces of soap. I bought them because the seller told me, “This is some of the soap that was made specially for Auschwitz sixty years ago.”
The Nazis cut each piece of soap into twelve pieces, the number of the tribes of Israel. Twelve pieces of soap for the extermination of an entire people. The barbarians mixed contempt with pragmatism. Every two of the condemned had to share one piece of soap.
In the spirit of the declaration of the President of Iran, it was a way of provoking people to aggression. It was soap issued to people before entering the death camp’s gas chambers; warm clothes offered to be taken with them by people before their execution in Babi Yar.
We, the World Holocaust Forum, with your approval, decide to prepare a memorial keepsake, putting pieces of soap in a special case crafted by one of the finest Israeli jewellers. There are twelve keepsakes, symbolizing vigilance. We will present them in person to the presidents of the countries that were members of the anti-Hitler allied coalition and to the presidents who have provided their patronage to our Forum.
Friends, look carefully around you – is anybody offering you a piece of soap? Are you offering a piece of soap to anyone else?
The lower a great people bow their heads in remembrance of their own tragedy, the higher they raise themselves.
As diseases, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are incurable without the support of authorities. The lower a government bows its head in remembrance of its own tragedy, the higher it raises itself and its people. This is true of Russia, Ukraine and any other country.
We are committed to human values. That is what guarantees the survival of any civilized, democratic country.
Welcome to the Forum.