Peres, at Warsaw uprising memorial: Israel will avenge Holocaust through peace
President marks 65 years since ghetto revolt against Nazis, calls it 'a victory over bestiality.'
President Shimon Peres delivered an address at a ceremony marking 65 years since the Warsaw ghetto uprising, stating that peace is the way in which Israel must avenge the horrors of the Holocaust.
"During times of intifadas and [Iranian] uranium enrichment, it is through peace that the forces of light can avenge the actions of the forces of darkness."
On Monday, Peres did not grant the Poles penance or absolution on Monday. Nevertheless, when he said at the foot of the memorial at the Treblinka death camp: "It is difficult to stand here, not because of you, but because of what was here," Peres was saying out loud, alongside Polish President Lech Kaczynski, what the Polish people had been hoping to hear.
For years the Poles have been waiting for recognition that even if the horrors of the Holocaust may have taken place on their soil, they did not carry them out.
As Peres looked at the Israeli soldiers and youth groups accompanying him, he added: "If we had had these soldiers and young people then, this would not have happened to us, and it will not happen to us in the future. We will not let the beast go crazy again," the president said.
Israeli and Polish flags fluttered in the afternoon breeze as Poland's chief orthodox rabbi, Michael Schudrich, chanted the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Then, to the beat of a military drum, Peres, Kaczynski and survivors of the ghetto uprising placed wreaths at the foot of the monument, which was flanked by two large iron menorahs.
Peres praised the young fighters, who he said displayed a heroism that "our children will proudly carry with them in their hearts. The majority of the uprising fighters died, murdered in cold blood. They lost the fight, but from the point of view of history, there has never been such a victory," Peres said. "A victory of men over human bestiality, of pure souls over fallen ones.
"Yes, the Germans won, thanks to thousands of soldiers shooting without thought and gassing bunkers," Peres said. What did those terrible Nazis leave to the generations that followed? Only shame, a curse and damnation."
Two layers to Peres visit
Monday's event at Treblinka was the first of Peres' four-day official visit to Poland. Given the complex relations with Poland, the visit also has two layers: the Jewish part, which includes marking the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt; and the diplomatic side, in which Peres will meet with the Polish prime minister and give a speech in Hebrew in parliament.
However, in Poland, the two halves of the visit are not truly separate, and are interlinked, as at Treblinka on Monday.
When Kaczynski spoke of the good relations between the countries, which he only wants to improve, he mentioned in the same breath the Polish righteous gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War; and thanked Peres for his support of the nomination of one of them, Irena Sendler, for the Nobel Peace Prize.
All the ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust are similar to one another - and each is awe-inspiring in its own way. 880,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka, most from Poland. The way to Treblinka passes through dozens of quiet towns and roads, with statues of Jesus and Mary standing at intersections. However, all this piety is forgotten in the face of the 17,000 crooked granite stones spread out over the grounds of the death camp, giving it the look of a surrealistic graveyard partially hidden in the forest.
Three quarters of the Polish Jews murdered here were from Warsaw, coming from the ghetto whose mythological bravery will be commemorated in a ceremony today.
Kaczynski, previously the mayor of Warsaw, did not forget to mention where the residents of his city who were killed here came from.
But an Israeli cloud of disagreement was hovering over the events. Joining the visit was former defense and foreign minister Moshe Arens, who has been dedicating a large part of his retirement to proving the part played by the Beitar revisionist movement in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Arens claims the official histories have written them out of the story. When asked about this, Peres chose to answer diplomatically, saying he honors all the fighters and victims.
Sixty-five years later, it seems Israel is reaching a certain level of balanced understanding with the Poles, but is still waging an internal battle on the history being written about the various groups. "Is there a single Jewish heart that does not tremble from the intensity of the pain and the greatness of the achievement?" wondered Peres at a meeting with 300 members of the Warsaw Jewish community at the end of a long day.
The heart trembles, but it still is searching for its place in the ethos of heroism.