Mr President of the State of Israel, dear friend, thank you.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen, heads of state and government,
Mr Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council,
Mr President of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation,
Dear Chief Rabbis,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Words may seem insufficient, but seeing you here all together already says so much. Could they ever have imagined this happening today? That we would come together to remember, relive and revive their memory. I am so moved to greet tonight the survivors of the Holocaust who are among us, the sons and daughters of deportees, the Righteous Among the Nations, the witnesses, those who bring to Jerusalem the eternal flame of memory. Thanks to them all. They do the work of humanity every day.
Almost 75 years ago, on the 27th of January 1945, the brave soldiers of the Red Army entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, which was occupied by Nazi Germany.
Each and every one of you described the moment of shock that all of humanity experienced then. But at that time, there were no celebrations, no cries of joy, not even cries of anger, there were only silence and tears.
For the people of Europe exhausted by war, it was, as Simone Veil said, not even an event. For the survivors, it was barely a relief. The worst had already happened. Could anyone ever recover from that? So many children would never find their parents; so many parents would never see their children again. What they had gone through was beyond words, and for many back then it was something that could not be heard of, something unnamable, inconceivable and unforgivable.
And yet, some of the survivors have overcome the need to forget by the need to transmit, to name the unnamable, to make the living hear the message of the dead, to tell, as Elie Wiesel said, about the child who, hiding in an underground shelter after a manhunt, asked his mother in a low, very soft voice, “Can I cry now?” Or about the disabled beggar who started singing in a sealed train car to encourage his companions. Or about the little girl who, holding her grandmother’s hand, whispered to her, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid to die. Life, you know, is not as beautiful as it is said to be, and I am leaving it without regret”. She was seven years old.
All of this is true. All of this happened. So yes, one had to remember everything, transcribe all the words, gestures, looks, sighs and worries – everything had to be transmitted. One had to answer the appeal of Simon Dubnow who said to his companions in the Riga ghetto, “Brothers, write everything down, write everything down to tell it to future generations”. It was necessary to continue the work of Isaac Schneersohn, who, in 1943 in Grenoble, secretly founded an organisation that was going to become the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation. It was necessary to pursue the effort of those who, amidst extermination, gathered documentary evidences of crimes, constituting piece by piece the archives of the victims among Jews, making their contribution to the indispensable resistance. This was a much-needed fight to break the silence, overcome the denial, forever ward off the unbearable, guilty and devastating oblivion.
It took the crazy energy of the prophets of truth, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, to find the names, faces and lives and to trace so many assassins. This fight was necessary, and I want to join with you tonight in thanking all of these combatants. There were places of remembrance both in France and in many other countries. But all the eyes were fixed to this place: Jerusalem. There were memories and stories. They all needed one name. This name was Yad Vashem.
This place keeps the testimonies of martyrdom and heroism. The memory of radical evil and the spirit of resistance. This is why the Holocaust must not be a story that is manipulated or misused or revisited. No! There is justice, there is history with its evidence, and there is the opinion of our nations. They should not be confused, at the risk of collectively plunging into calamity. No one has the right to recall the dead to justify any current differences or existing hatred, because all those who have fallen call us to truth, memory, dialogue and friendship. Could there be a more beautiful symbol than that of seeing us united here all together? United to do useful work to combat denial, resentment or speech of revenge.
What a pride it is for me to see so many European countries united here tonight and to be present here alongside the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, dear Frank-Walter, to stand here with you and to be able to hear you.
Europe must stand united.
Never forget, never divide!
This is also a lesson to be learnt. The international community must not forget that barbarism was born from the negation of the other and the flouting of international law and the security of nations.
I agree with you, dear Vladimir, President Putin. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council assume a historic responsibility today, and I support your wish to reunite, 75 years later. We mentioned it a few days ago and I hope that we can do it because, historically, since the end of World War II, we have been the guarantors of an international order that is governed by law, legality and respect for everyone.
This is what we have to defend everywhere. Yes, we need this unity of Europe and the international community, because today, violent and blatant antisemitism is resurfacing in our democracies. It is there, together with its cortege of hatred and intolerance, together with racism. Antisemitism, let me say this clearly, is not only a problem for Jews. No, it is first of all a problem for all the others, because each time in our history it has preceded a collapse that was evidence of our weakness, the weakness of our democracies. It reflected the inability to accept the appearance of the other. It has always been the first form of rejection of the other, and when antisemitism arises, all forms of racism proliferate, all divisions spread, and no one can be a winner.
Yes, we are here today because we must not give up anything as we face this new antisemitism. We are fighting, as you have mentioned, dear Moshe, by different means in each of our countries: by laws, texts, by law enforcement, by resolute action, by protection in both the real and the virtual worlds, because hate speech is everywhere, and we need to educate. There is no doubt we missed something. We must be clearheaded so that our children today can believe what they believe. We must not let them plunge back into the infamy of the worst prejudices and feed the hatreds that we thought we had done away with.
Yes, memory also means a promise. Our presence in Yad Vashem and the presence of our youth in Yad Vashem is a promise, because by making them relive the intolerable, by showing them the example of the Righteous, by making them merely touch the barbarism, we make them understand that today’s indifference to antisemitism and racism is a venom. Indifference means complicity. And I firmly believe that our antidote to hatred is education.
One of the most prominent French authors, Charles Péguy, condemned those whom he often called ‘accustomed souls’, meaning people who let things happen. We will not be indifferent to what happens, because the promise of France is indeed a promise of memory and action.
Zakhor – lo tishkach!
Remember, do not forget!
This Jewish oath has also been adopted by the French Republic. France has engraved the memory of the Holocaust in the marble of its laws. It teaches it in schools. France inscribed the names of its heroes on the walls. France, through its President Chirac, looked in the face of its history and recognised the irreparable responsibility of the French state for the deportation of Jews. France knows how much it owes to those who hid and protected our citizens in villages and in churches, saving 240,000 French Jews, 59,000 of them children, while 11,000 were deported. France knows what it owes to its spirit and forces of resistance.
Our nation will always have an implacable response to those who deny, relativise or become complacent about what happened. Our survivors are our heroes, and they have become the messengers. They have inspired future generations of messengers. Our children, in turn, will become uncompromising witnesses. Thanks to this place and what they will have learnt, they will know that we have no right to forget, that the tale of the lives of those who disappeared must live forever. The future generations will also be inspired by the example of the Righteous. Our children will have to defend democracy and humanism, which are so fragile.
May we all together inspire our youth today so that they find courage and stand up, proud of our values, and so that they say, knowing all that they will have seen, experienced and understood, “Never again! Never again!”