Speech by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

Mr. Yushchenko, President of Ukraine, Mr. Katsav, President of the State of Israel, Presidents of Croatia and Montenegro, leaders, spiritual leaders, the rabbis, Mr. Moshe Kantor, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Mr. Bielski, Chairman of Yad Vashem Mr. Avner Shalev,

Ladies, gentlemen, honourees, dear friends,

Standing there a few hours ago at the Monument of Babi Yar, very close to that Valley of Horror, where about one hundred thousand innocent people perished in those days 65 years ago, I couldn’t escape from the memory of another valley, a valley which appears in the Bible in the Book of Ezekiel the Prophet. Chapter 37 is describing the Valley of the Dry Bones. Many bones, very dry bones…Do they have any hope? Do they have any future? Will they live? And the prophecy speaks about the allegoric destiny of the Jewish people. And the end of the prophecy is: “I will open your graves, my people, and I will lift you up out of your graves, all my people. And I will bring you into the Land of Israel.”

This miracle didn’t happen 65 years ago here in Babi Yar in Kyiv. It did not happen. They did not come out of their graves. Among those one hundred thousand victims there were 33,771 Jewish victims. I emphasize this number and please pay attention to the one. We cannot speak just about thousands or 6 millions or dozens of thousands. Look at the human being. Look at the individual and the personal disaster. Thirty-three thousand, right? Seven hundred and seventy-one. Who is the one?

Maybe a baby. You saw the pictures. Maybe a baby who was already bleeding under a heap of corpses and spontaneously climbing up of all those corpses to breath and maybe to save himself, to survive. And his climbing with that small fierceness of a baby, an innocent child, that he couldn’t make, he was injured, he was bleeding, he fell back into the valley among all the other cold corpses. He is maybe the one in the thirty three thousand seven hundred and seventy people. Think about this child, not about numbers; about people, human beings.

April 11, 1995, 50 years after the liberation of a concentration camp in Germany, Buchenwald. I was invited as the youngest survivor of Buchenwald to come and to speak on behalf of the survivors who lived 50 years after the liberation, who were liberated by the American authorities, General Patton, on April 11, 1945. So on April 11, 1995 in the National Theatre of Weimar, the centre of German culture, Goethe and Schiller and Heine and who not appeared on the same stage…I came to speak. I said to them:

“This is the second time I have arrived in Buchenwald. The first time I was seven and a half years old. No name, no personality, just a number, heftlink, prisoner. 117030. That’s me. Now the second time in the 50 years I come back to Buchenwald, to Weimar as the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish State that didn’t exist in 1945. Israel was founded on May 15, 1948 – a little bit too late. Too late. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Israeli State had been born not in ‘48 but in ‘38? Remember Entebbe airport on July 4, 1976, so you can think what could happen? But this miracle also didn’t happen on time. Too late.

Now if I come here with a name, with an identity, with them all representing a Jewish state, you can say: “Ok, let’s open a new page, let’s write a new book, let’s forget, let’s forgive. Such a difference – 50 years. Huge amount of time.”

I came here, to Weimar, to Buchenwald to tell you: we cannot forget and we are not authorized to forgive. Who gives me the authority to forgive? My father who perished at the age of 50 in Treblinka? My mother who perished of starvation and torture in Ruvensbruck at the age of 44? My brother of 13 years old, Milek?

What does it mean to forgive? Can I forgive? On behalf of whom? Did the victims tell us: “Forgive?” They didn’t have a chance even to say something, to defend themselves. Standing there at the Valley today, this is not my first time in Babi Yar, I think about the Einsatzgruppen, the Zondercomander, the S.S., the Gestapo, the shining boots, the orders, schnell, schnell, schnell… And I do think also about the collaborators and mainly about the silence of the world. The world kept silent.

Maybe I am not a historian, but maybe, say, this Babi Yar was also a test for Hitler. If on September 29 and September 30, 1941 Babi Yar may happen and the world did not react seriously, dramatically, abnormally, maybe this was a good test for him. So a few weeks later in January 1942, near Berlin in Wannsee, a convention can be held with a decision, a final solution to the Jewish problem. We are a problem, of course. Maybe if the very action had been a serious one, a dramatic one, in September 1941 here in Ukraine, the Wannsee Conference would have come to a different end, maybe.

We kept silent. This silence helped all the horrors of the world in the last 65 years. Two million innocent children in Biafra, Africa died of starvation because of tyrannical debates and battle words, nobody knows why. If this can happen in this cultured continent, Europe, why not in Africa, why not later on in Kosovo, Rwanda, Zaire, Laos, Cambodia? The world became a torch of fire, of hatred, lakes of bloodshed, because of that silence. And before that silence in the ‘30s what did we see? What did we hear? The voice was: “It will not happen, it can’t be. The world will not enable such a horror. The world is too cultured to enable that horror. Don’t pay attention to what he is saying, he is mad, he is an extremist. Who is he? A corporal from Linz, from Austria. Don’t take him seriously!”

We are here 65 years later to say one to the other: “All these extremists and fundamentalists and all these leaders falsifying and denying the very existence of the Holocaust – take them seriously, pay attention, give your ears, give your hearts, give your concern to those elements, because what they say – they mean it. And our silence never brought to fruitful accomplishment what had to be done in order to prevent, to shut up just in the beginning all these horrible events in the world.

I am very happy to be here among my friends, representing the Jewish people, the survivors. I am the first survivor among the speakers today and I speak from my heart. Nothing but my heart is involved here. I want to thank you, President Yushchenko, to thank the Ukrainian people, to thank Moshe Kantor and all the assistants for this historic event. Sixty-five years. Because of anti-Semitism, because of racism, because of hatred – we need this commemoration, we need it horribly, we are thirsty to make the world aware, we need a shoulder, we need some backing, we need to know that we have friends who know the importance of understanding, of friendship, of love and of peace.

Thank you.