Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Yad Vashem Photo by Emil Salman
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Emil Salman
President Shimon Peres speaking at Yad Vashem Sunday. Photo by Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned on Sunday whether the world has learned its lesson from the Holocaust, citing the imminent danger posed by Iran.

Speaking at the state ceremony for the Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem, Netanyahu asked why years before the Holocaust, leaders around the world did not foresee the signs of the looming catastrophe that was to come. Those that did, he said, were criticized and ridiculed. "How could it be that so many didn’t understand reality?" he asked.

"The bitter truth – the tragic truth," said Netanyahu, "is that they didn’t see the signs because they didn't want to see the signs. Why? Because they didn't want to deal with the implications."

"Like back then," Netanyahu added, "some perceive Iran's nuclear aspirations as… something to accept. Like back then, they are making a historic mistake."

Iran, said Netanyahu, has called for Israel's destruction: "That's the reason it is building bunkers, a heavy-water facility, that's why it's constructing ballistic missiles." He called on world leaders not to back down from the demand that the Islamic Republic completely gives up its nuclear capabilities. 

Speaking before the prime minister, President Shimon Peres said that the State of Israel is the best deterrence against another Holocaust, and that a strong Israel is "our answer to the terror of anti-Semitism."

Speaking at state ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Peres cautioned that the rise of extreme right-wing groups with neo-Nazi characteristics should not be ignored, and constitute a danger to every person and a warning to every nation.

"Let me tell you, from my own 90 years of experience, that without a state we would have continued to live as a weakened people, instead of being a nation that we are today, that can thrive on its historical and contemporary capabilities," Peres said.

"The State of Israel is not a passing phenomenon," Peres continued. "It is built on 4,000 years of life."

At the start of his speech, Peres conjured up an image from the Holocaust of masses of Hungarian Jews standing tied together on the docks of the Danube River, then being shot in the back by German troops and local militias. "Children were tied to their mothers, the young to the old. The bodies of the murdered were pushed into the freezing waters of the Danube. … The blue Danube turned red and became a floating mass grave," Peres said.

"From the moment [the Nazis] took over the country, they immediately began exterminating the Jews," Peres said. "They did it with the utmost efficiency. In a month, the tagged all Jews with yellow Stars of David and concentrated them in ghettos. The hunger and diseases preceded the bullets and gas in killing the Jews. Nearly half a million Jews were murdered…"

Then Peres described the scene from his hometown of Vishnyeva, then in Poland, now in Belarus, where the Nazis marched the local Jews, led by Peres' grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, into the wooden synagogue. Germans and locals "locked the doors of the synagogue on the Jews and set it on fire."

On Monday, ceremonies marking Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day will begin at 10 A.M. with a siren that will sound for two minutes, during which Israelis all over the country will stand in silence.

Immediately afterward, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial at Warsaw Ghetto Square, to be attended by Peres, Netanyahu, MKs, Supreme Court justices, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and other officials, along with representatives of survivors and fighters' organizations and delegations from Israel and abroad.

At 10:30 the “Every Person Has a Name” ceremony will begin at Yad Vashem, during which the names of Holocaust victims will be read by members of the general public at the Hall of Remembrance. Starting at 11, names of Holocaust victims will also be read at the Knesset, under the auspices of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. The main memorial ceremony will begin at 1 P.M. at the Hall of Remembrance.

The central closing ceremony will take place at 7:45 P.M. at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum on Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot. Speakers this year will include Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Gantz. Six memorial torches will be lit by Holocaust survivors and their families.

One of the torches will be lit by the daughter and granddaughter of Chavka Folman Raban, one of the legendary smugglers of the Warsaw Ghetto, who died earlier this year. Other torches will be lit by partisan Litman Mor; survivors Hava and Yosef Lustig, among the founders of the Memorial Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry in Safed; Yitzhak Livnat, a survivor of Birkenau; Yosef Ben Porat, a survivor of the Glass House of Budapest, a noted educator and founder of Kibbutz Gaaton; and Prof. Yanina Altman, a survivor of the Yanovska concentration camp, an author, chemist, and social activist.

The wreath of the Righteous Among the Nations will be laid by representatives of the Swiss Embassy in Israel, in memory of diplomat Carl Lutz, the Swiss vice-consul in Budapest and other foreign diplomats who enlisted in the efforts led by local youth movements to save Hungarian Jews.