International Holocaust Remembrance Day / Across Europe, Jewish leaders vow: Never again
Israel's leaders, with Iran on their minds, vowed never again to allow the "hand of evil" to kill Jews as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day yesterday.
Speaking in Poland at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, liberated by Soviet troops 65 years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a strong Israeli state was the only guarantee for the security of his people.
In Berlin, Israeli President Shimon Peres told the German parliament that Iran posed a threat to the entire world and lashed out at its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust and has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
"From this site, I vow as the leader of the Jewish state that we will never again allow the hand of evil to destroy the life of our people and the life of our state. Never again," Netanyahu said at the Auschwitz ceremony.
"We will not allow the deniers of the Holocaust ... to erase or distort the memory [of what happened]," the prime minister said, in a clear reference to Ahmadinejad's denial of the Nazis' genocide.
"All enlightened nations must absorb this lesson," Netanyahu added, pledging that as the head of the state of he would not to allow a "new Amalek" to threaten to destroy the Jewish nation - a reference to the biblical nation that waged war against the Jews.
Poland's president and prime minister, along with education ministers from nearly 30 nations, including Russia, and about 150 camp survivors attended yesterday's commemoration. Up to 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished at Auschwitz.
Peres also stressed the need for vigilance. "Never again ignore blood-thirsty dictators, hiding behind demagogical masks, who utter murderous slogans," he told German lawmakers in a landmark speech delivered in Hebrew.
"The threats to annihilate a people and a nation are voiced in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, which are held by irresponsible hands, by irrational thinking and in an untruthful language," Peres said.
Peres, 86, recalled in his speech how his grandfather was burned to death in a Belarus synagogue the Nazis locked from the outside.
"While my heart is breaking at the memory of the atrocious past, my eyes envision a common future for a world that is young, a world free of all hatred, a world in which the words 'war' and 'anti-Semitism' will be dead words," Peres said before reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a filmed message, thanked survivors for finding "the strength to come back again, so many years later, despite the horror you saw here, the suffering you endured here, and the loved ones you lost here."
"We have a sacred duty to remember the twisted thinking that led here - how a great society of culture and science succumbed to the worst instincts of man and rationalized mass murder and one of the most barbaric acts in history," Obama said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who declined a Polish invitation to attend yesterday's ceremony, warned in a message read by Russia's education minister of attempts to rewrite history by downplaying the role of the Red Army.
Russians are immensely proud of their country's role in defeating Hitler's Germany at huge human cost. The Auschwitz ceremony was widely shown on Russian state media, while Russian Jewish groups organized memorial services across the country.
The theme of the Auschwitz commemoration was educating young people about the Holocaust. "This place determined who I am today, aged nearly 90. I still have one mission - to pass on to the next generation knowledge of what happened here," August Kowalczyk, one of very few of the camp prisoners to escape, told reporters at the site.
Rise in anti-Semitism
Jewish groups have voiced concern about what they see as a rise in anti-Semitism and xenophobia in some European countries and have called for more education about the Holocaust.
Speaking to the Italian parliament in Rome yesterday, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel attacked wartime Pope Pius XII for his "silence" during the Nazis' mass killings of Jews.
German-born Pope Benedict XVI has rattled the Jewish community by defending the actions of his wartime predecessor.
Speaking in his native German during his weekly general audience yesterday, the 82-year-old recalled the liberation of the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz 65 years ago.
"On January 27, 1945, the gates of the Nazi concentration camp near the Polish city of Oswiecim, better known by its German name of Auschwitz, were opened and the few survivors freed," Benedict said.
"That event, and the testimony of those who survived, revealed to the world the horror of the crimes of unprecedented cruelty committed in the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany," added the pope, who as a teenager had been a member of the Hitler Youth.