Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel warns against universalizing Holocaust
At Jerusalem inauguration ceremony, Katsav tells dignitaries from 40 states that museum warns of short path from racism to genocide.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday at the inauguration of a new Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem that he hoped it would inspire the world to "find a better way" than the hatred and intolerance he said the world body must combat.
"Let Yad Vashem inspire us to keep striving as long as the darkest dark crawls the face of the earth," he said, paraphrasing Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld. Annan was addressing the leaders and dignitaries from some 40 countries who attended the state ceremony in Jerusalem.
Annan said the main task now is to prevent a repetition of the Holocaust anywhere. "A United Nations that fails to be at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism denies its history and undermines its future," he told the dignitaries.
But Nobel Peace prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel rejected the universalization of the Holocaust, saying it was not an example of "man's inhumanity to man."
"It was man's inhumanity to Jews," he said. "Jews were not killed because they were human beings. In the eyes of the killers, they were not human beings, they were Jews."
President Moshe Katsav said the inauguration marks the commitment of world leaders to the values of humankind and to passing on the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations.
He also warned of renewed anti-Semitism and said the museum serves as a warning to the world, calling it "an important signpost to all of humankind, a signpost that warns how short the distance is between hatred and murder, between racism and genocide."
"We are concerned about Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism," Katsav told the crowd. Europe "must accept the burden of the memory and lessons of the Holocaust for the future it is building. It owes this to the millions of Jews who were murdered on its soil."
The ceremony sought to link the horrors of the genocide with the hope of the survivors and their descendants. A children's choir sang as scenes of Jewish children from the war era flashed on a huge screen behind them. A man sounded the shofar, while others played violins and clarinets and sang songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in his address, said "the state of Israel is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the power to protect themselves by themselves. This is the only guarantee that the Jewish people will never know another Holocaust."
Human dimension to Holocaust statisticsThe visiting dignitaries toured the museum in the afternoon, after Katsav cut the ribbon and former chief rabbi Israel Meir Lau affixed a mezuzah to its doorpost.
The $56 million museum, part of the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem, focuses on the personal tragedies of the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi genocide.
To give a human dimension to Holocaust statistics, some 90 personal stories are woven into the museum's displays, which also feature some 280 works of art.
"This is a moment of commemoration for the six million murdered by Nazi Germany," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Jerusalem.
"Of course Germany is my country so it's also a historical and moral responsibility to never forget what happened and the responsibility of my country for the Shoah," he added, using the Hebrew word for Holocaust.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, representing the United States, told reporters, "Freedom is something we constantly have to fight for and if we ever compromise our standards, we see just how far it goes."
"We cannot allow intolerance any place against any people," he said.
Not since Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995 has such a large number of dignitaries come to the capital, the Foreign Ministry said. Ministry official Roni Leshno-Ya'ar, who is responsible for Annan's visit, said, "The new atmosphere in the area and the advancement of the peace process has made it possible for many leaders to come to Israel."
Security forces on guardSecurity was intense in Jerusalem on Tuesday as police, already on guard for possible terror threats, expected to face major security and traffic management challenges as motorcades for dignitaries course through the gridlocked city. A police helicopter hovered over the capital, monitoring the VIPs' movement in the city.
In the evening, police blocked an attempt to block the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, which was apparently planned as an anti-disengagement protest. Far-right activists opposed to the pullout had vowed to set up a protest tent near the ceremony, comparing the planned evacuation of Gaza and West Bank settlenents to the Nazi trains that brought Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.