German President at Yad Vashem: I Wish I Could Say Germans Learned From History, but I Can't

Netanyahu 'concerned' countries aren't taking a firm stand against 'anti-Semitic' Iran ■ Putin says many collaborated with the Nazis, laments Holocaust becoming 'political matter' ■ Senior Saudi religious leader visits Auschwitz

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem January 23, 2020.
Reuters

World leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon for the second day of the World Holocaust Forum, in which the 75th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is being commemorated. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin urged politicians and heads of state to help Israel in its battle against anti-Semitism, noting that the horrors of the Holocaust should never be forgotten. 

They were joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and American Vice President Mike Pence, who all made addresses. Other leaders in attendance are Britain's Prince Charles, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the presidents of Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, Georgia, Cyprus and Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

>> Read more: Holocaust Forum and U.S. election give Israel the perfect stage to push Jordan Valley annexation | Analysis ■ What's really causing a major rift between Poland and Russia ■ America's shameful betrayal of Europe's desperate Jewish academics in the Holocaust | Opinion

6:24 P.M. Polish president says Holocaust Forum presented 'a distorted vision of history'  

Polish President Andrzej Duda doubled down on his refusal to attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, as the organizers of the event presented "a distorted vision of history."

Duda referred to the films shown to participants at the event.

Hijacking the Holocaust for Putin, politics and powerHaaretz Weekly Ep. 57

"The organizer, Mr. Moshe Kantor's foundation, simply distorted history, completely leaving out the participation of our soldiers in the fight against Nazi Germany" on the main fronts of World War II, Duda said in Davos on Thursday.

"This confirms that I made the right decision not being there... We should not validate a falsified historic message. We need to speak the truth and speak it out loud," Duda said.

One of the maps in the films presented during the event detached the eastern part of pre-war Poland from the rest of the country, labelling it "Belarus." That territory was invaded by Soviet Russia, at the time allied with Nazi Germany, in September 1939.

Israeli Reuven Rivlin speaks at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020.
Ronen Zvulun/AP

4:25 P.M. German president: I wish I could say Germans have learned from history, but I can't when hatred is spreading

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned Thursday that "the spirits of evil are emerging in a new guise, presenting their anti-Semitic, racist, authoritarian thinking as an answer for the future."

Speaking at the main event of the World Holocaust Forum in Israel's Holocaust memorial and museum Yad Vashem, Steinmeier expressed his deep sorrow and guilt: "The perpetrators were human beings," he said. "They were Germans. Those who murdered, those who planned and helped in the murdering, the many who silently toed the line: They were Germans."

"Yes, we Germans remember," said Steinmeier. "But sometimes it seems as though we understand the past better than the present. The spirits of evil are emerging in a new guise, presenting their anti-Semitic, racist, authoritarian thinking as an answer for the future, a new solution to the problems of our age."

Steinmeier said he wished he could say Germans have learned from history. "But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading," he went on. "I cannot say that when Jewish children are spat on in the schoolyard, I cannot say that when crude anti-Semitism is cloaked in supposed criticism of Israeli policy. I cannot say that when only a thick wooden door prevents a right-wing terrorist from causing a bloodbath in a synagogue in the city of Halle on Yom Kippur."

"This Germany will only live up to itself, if it lives up to its historical responsibility," he declared. "We fight anti-Semitism! We resist the poison that is nationalism! We protect Jewish life! We stand with Israel! Here at Yad Vashem, I renew this promise before the eyes of the world. And I know that I am not alone. Today we join together to say: No to anti-Semitism! No to hatred!"

4:15 P.M. Britain’s Prince Charles says 'lessons of the Holocaust relevant to this day'

Addressing the World Holocaust Forum, Prince Charles told fellow participants Thursday “that if we don’t make the connection between memories of past atrocities and the present there isn’t any point to it.”

The British heir to the throne is one of several world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, attending the forum, which this year coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Like other speakers, Charles peppered his address with words in Hebrew. He warned that “hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart.”

“The magnitude of the genocide that was visited upon the Jewish people defies comprehension and can make those of us living in the shadows of those indescribable event feel helplessly inadequate.”

But he warned that “the Holocaust must never be allowed to become simply a fact of history.

4:03 Pence calls on world leaders to confront Iran

Addressing the World Holocaust Forum, Pence told fellow participants Thursday to “confront and expose the vile tide of anti-Semitism” around the world.

“In that same spirit, we must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of anti-Semitism, against the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Pence’s remarks received a loud applause from the Israeli audience. Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy.

Pence spoke emotionally about the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.

“Today we gather, nearly 50 nations strong here in Jerusalem to say with one voice ‘never again,’” he said, drawing more applause.
He ended his speech with a Hebrew prayer for peace, receiving another loud ovation.

4:00 P.M. France's Macron: Facing new anti-Semitism, we must not give up the fight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara receive Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem memorial center in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020.
POOL/ REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron took the stage at Yad Vashem, saying that in "facing new anti-Semitism" that is rearing its head in Europe and elsewhere, "we must not give up the fight." 

"Awful things happened in France" during World War II, he added, going on to say that "in my country and in others we look to Jerusalem."

"The Holocaust can't be a history that can be played with, distorted or challenged. There is justice. There is history, and proof. Let us not confuse things so that we don't sink to the heart of darkness."

3:50 P.M. Putin laments Holocaust turned into a political matter

Delivering his speech at the international Holocaust forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the 'final solution' was one of the most terrible chapters of human history, adding that many collaborated with those heinous crimes. "Those who collaborated with the Nazis, were at times crueler than the Nazis. Not only the Nazis served at the death and concentration camps, but also their helpers from other countries across Europe."

Amid the diplomatic spat that has developed between Russia and Poland about the role each played in World War II, the Russian president added that "The Soviet nation was the one that put an end to the Nazis' malicious plan. While protecting their homeland, the Soviet nation also liberated Europe. The memory of the Holocaust will continue being a lesson and a warning only if the true story is told, without omitting the facts. Unfortunately, today the issue of the Holocaust has turned into a political matter. Current and future politicians are obligated to protect the good name of the heroes of the past, of the innocent victims of the Nazis and their collaborators.

Israeli officials familiar with details of talks between Jerusalem and Moscow told Haaretz that Israel made three overtures toward Russia ahead of President Vladimir Putin's arrival in Israel to attend the Holocaust Forum.

The gestures included approving the ownership transfer of Russian churches located at Alexander's Yard in Jerusalem to Russia; resolving the disagreement between the Jerusalem Municipality and Russian authorities regarding property taxes of the Mission of Saint Sergius of Jerusalem; and transferring powers to sign all official agreements involving Russian assets from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Russian church.

3:20 Rivlin warns that anti-Semitism is a 'chronic disease'

Addressing world leaders at Yad Vashem, the Israeli president said that "full partnership in the fight against racism and the old-new anti-Semitism that is breaking out today in worrying ways" is 
necessary in order to stem these phenomena. "It takes the guise of superiority, national purity and xenophobia that worms its way into the heart of leadership and takes a terrible price in human life," he added. 

"Anti-Semitism is a chronic disease," he warned. "It comes from left and right, taking on and discarding forms during history. Antisemitism has not changed. It is us who have changed."

2:57 P.M. Netanyahu calls on world leaders to join battle against Iran

Speaking at the main Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "As prime minister I'm committed first and foremost to make the words "never again" not just another empty slogan, but a constant order for action. At the base of Israel resurrection, the main lesson is that there won't be another Holocaust."  

In addition, Netanyahu said Israel has yet to see countries around the world taking a firm united stand against Iran, calling it "the most anti-Semitic regime in the world that seeks to develop a nuclear weapon to the one and only destroy the Jewish state."

Netanyahu added that the Israel "salutes the United States for standing firm against Iran, a country that enslaves its people and threatens the peace and security of the entire Middle East."

The premier urged world leaders to join the American effort to curb Iran's actions, while vowing that "Israel will do everything in its power to protect the Jewish people and its future. As prime minister, I promise that these words are not just empty slogans." 

2:50 P.M. Muslim religious leaders visit Auschwitz 

Senior Saudi religious leader Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, head of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, brought a delegation of Muslim leaders to visit the Auschwitz death camp on Thursday, the 75th anniversary of its liberation.    

2:21 P.M. Mike Pence, Benny Gantz discuss policy and defense

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz at the International Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, and discussed matters of defense and policy related to regional developments.

1:39 P.M.  Netanyahu: We will always remember that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the people of Leningrad during World War II, who "taught the world a lesson in steadfastness and bravery," and "never once considered surrender."

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony of the monument to the heroism of the residents of Leningrad and its defenders, Netanyahu said: "We will always remember that the soldiers of the Red Army were the ones to open the gates of the [Auschwitz] concentration camp."

1:00 P.M. Monument to Leningrad defenders unveiled

Netanyahu, alongside Putin, unveiled the monument to the heroism of the residents of Leningrad and its defenders during the German siege on the city in World War II. The memorial is located in the center of Jerusalem in Sacher Park, not far from the Knesset and Supreme Court. 

President Reuven Rivlin (L) and his French counterpart Macron at the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, January 22, 2019.

The monument, known as the Memorial Candle, is an 8.5 meter tall copper statue, with a cast bronze element representing the candle’s flame. The movement of the flame is achieved by the through the spiral that will be illuminated at night to create a special effect of a burning eternal flame, said the sponsors of the project, who include the president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Mikhael Mirilashvili, and the chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, Viktor Vekselberg. 

12:53 P.M. Rivlin meets with Prince Charles 

President Rivlin and Charles, Prince of Wales met Thursday morning. Rivlin reiterated the importance of Holocaust remembrance and the fight against anti-Semitism, saying that it "may start with Jews, but no one knows how it will end." He thanked Prince Charles for his participation in the International Holocaust Forum and his dedication to fighting anti-Semitism in all its forms.   

The prince called the experience "very meaningful" and said that many of his educators over the years were Holocaust survivors, and that all have a profound obligation to fight anti-Semitism.

Rivlin mentioned the prince's grandmother, Princess Alice, who is buried in Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, who saved many Jews from perishing in the Holocaust, and the many British soldiers fighting terror in the Middle East. Rivlin added that "we value your clear and moral voice" against rising anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. The two planted an English oak tree in the garden of the president's residence to mirror the planting of an identical tree in the Righteous Among Nations Garden in 1993 by Charles' father Prince Phillip in honor of his mother Princess Alice.  

11:54 A.M. Putin calls Holocaust 'shared tragedy' 

Speaking in a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Putin called the Holocaust a "shared tragedy" because "40 percent of the Jews killed [in World War II] were from the Soviet Union." 
"The Soviet and Russian people suffered a lot in the war." 

The Russian president also noted that the "Red Army had not only liberated Auschwitz, but also made a great contribution to the victory over the Nazis." 

11:41 A.M. Benny Gantz, Nancy Pelosi meet

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Jerusalem. The meeting, which also included top Kahol Lavan lawmakers as well as Pelosi's delegation, centered on "the essential issues pertaining to the strategic partnership between Israel and the United States," a statement from Kahol Lavan said. The meeting, said the statement, also touched on the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and the threat of a nuclear Iran. (Noa Landau)

11:20 A.M. Putin on Israeli jailed in Russia: 'Everything will be okay'

Netanyahu and Putin announced that they concluded their meeting with the mother of Naama Issachar, Yaffa. Netanyahu called their visit "an excellent work meeting" between the two, adding that Yaffa Issachar joined them towards the end, at Putin's behest. Netanyahu said the meeting was very moving and thanked Putin very much "for the friendly gesture." 

Putin said in a highly anticipated speech that "It is clear that Naama comes from a good family" and that he will undoubtedly take into account that Netanyahu wants him to make a decision on the matter of releasing her. Today, he said, Naama is being visited by Russia's human rights official. Yaffa, Putin said, is very worried, "and of course, I told her this and I want to repeat that everything will be okay."   

10:31 A.M. Mahmoud Abbas calls on France to recognize 1967 borders, Jerusalem capital for Palestinian state

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on France to recognize 1967 borders and a Jerusalem capital for a Palestinian state. Abbas and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron met Wednesday evening in Ramallah, where Abbas requested Macron's involvement in what he termed the deadlock and crisis in policy proceedings due to Israel's conduct and the United States' stances.

Abbas said that the Palestinian leadership very much wants to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, a promise that Abbas made in September, and said that he expects it will happen soon. Abbas is expected to meet with Putin on Thursday.  

10:16 A.M. Putin thanks Netanyahu for inviting him to Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara made a joint press statement in which the Israeli premier welcomed the Russian president to Israel. Putin thanked Netanyahu for inviting him to participate in the Holocaust Forum. 

9:50 A.M. Ukrainian president and delegation give up seats in ceremony for Holocaust survivors; Yad Vashem attacks him

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and members of his official delegation have given up their seats in the ceremony to take place later in Jerusalem to make room for Holocaust survivors 
who wished to attend the event but did not have room. 

Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial and museum, attacked the Ukrainian president for his gesture. "It has been explained to the president that Holocaust survivors who have contacted us in recent days were addressed and that it's not possible to hassle them under the current circumstances. His decision is bizarre, and it's a shame that he took such a step in an event held under the slogan 'Remembering the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism.'"

9:27 A.M. FM Katz meets Putin at Ben-Gurion International Airport, says 'we know the historical truth' about Russia's role in the Holocaust 

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz received Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Ben-Gurion International Airport and thanked him for coming to Israel to participate in the Holocaust Forum.

Regarding the historical dispute between Russia and Poland about their roles in World War II, Katz told Putin, "What happened at the time, we, as those who were liberated [from Auschwitz], know exactly who did the liberating, know the historical truth."

"Israel appreciates the bravery of the Russian people in the war and the crucial role the Red Army had in defeating Nazi Germany and liberating the extermination camps," Katz told the Russian president. "Your visit in Israel will contribute to the strengthening of the friendship between Russia and Israel and will enable us to discuss again the security challenges Israel faces in the Middle East."

9:06 A.M. Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz receives VP Pence at Ben-Gurion International Airport

Greeting the American vice president, Katz said: "I thank and bless your arrival at an event with an important goal. The friendship between Israel and the United States is stronger than ever and based on mutual values. The steps you have taken – you and Trump – to strengthen the connection between Israel and the U.S. attest to leadership and a lot of bravery and we are thankful for that."

9:05 A.M. Putin lands in Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Israel in advance of his participation in the International Holocaust Forum. Putin is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the mother of Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old American-Israeli imprisoned in Russia for drug charges. This will be the fourteenth meeting between Netanyahu and his Russian counterpart since the end of 2015, and they are expected to discuss Issachar's case and regional concerns.

8:58 A.M. Putin to inaugurate Seige of Leningrad monument in Jerusalem

Putin will inaugurate a Jerusalem monument to the heroism of the residents and fighters in the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. The monument will be erected in Jerusalem's central Sacher Park, a stone's throw from the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Rivlin and Netanyahu will attend the dedication alongside Putin.

The massive "Memorial Candle" sculpture will memorialize the hundreds of thousands of people, among them tens of thousands of Jews, who were killed over the course of the 900-day siege by the Nazis, from September 1941 to January 1944.  

8:50 A.M. Pence lands in Israel

5:54 A.M. Police announce major road closures

As the forum is set to begin and world leaders begin arriving in Jerusalem, dozens of roads in the city and the outlying areas have been blocked off  to traffic by the Israel Police. Route 1, which connects Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, will be closed from 8 A.M. to 10 A.M., and its eastward junctions will be periodically closed as well. Westward traffic on the same route is expected to be blocked in the evening, and police warn of traffic and congestion along the road.

4:58 A.M. No apology from Macron to Israeli security forces

Contrary to an Israeli police statement, France made it clear that there was no "apology" on their part after French President Emmanuel Macron confronted Israeli security guards in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday.

"There was no presidential apology to the Israeli security forces," French officials told Haaretz. According to the Élysée Palace, Israeli security forces tried to enter the common ground of the French-owned church space and President Macron responded to a dispute that arose between French and Israeli security.

4:38 A.M. The dispute over World War II that is causing a major rift between Poland and Russia | Explained

As world leaders descend on Yad Vashem to memorialize the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a diplomatic spat has erupted between Russia and Poland that reaches the heart of how both see the roles their countries played in World War II. What is the conflict about, what do the countries want from each other and why now? Read more here.  

4:35 A.M. Holocaust Forum and U.S. election give Israel the perfect stage to push Jordan Valley annexation | Analysis

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intention to annex the Jordan Valley a week before the election last September, it was perceived as a last-minute ploy to divert attention from his impending corruption indictments and a temptation for religious-Zionist voters to defect from the right-wing alliance to Likud.

The World Holocaust Forum offers an opportunity to put annexation back in the headlines, safe in the knowledge that the many world leaders coming to honor the memory of the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust won’t spoil the event by criticizing Israel’s appetite for land. Read more here from Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn.

7:50 P.M. Rivlin calls on world leaders to unite in battle against anti-Semitism

Speaking at a special reception, Rivlin urged politicians and heads of state from all around the world to "stand united in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values. This is the call of our time. This is our challenge. This is our choice." 

"This is a historic gathering, not only for Israel and the Jewish People, but for all humanity," Rivlin said. "This evening as we remember the victims of the Holocaust, and World War Two, we also mark the victory of freedom and human dignity." He added that at Thursday's ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial, the leaders will gather to "remember and to promise 'never again'." 

In his speech Rivlin also hinted at a scuffle between Poland and Russia over the issue of who is responsible for the outbreak of the war. Polish President Andrzej Duda decided to boycott the ceremony because its organizers did not invite him to make an official address, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has been asked to make a speech. "Historical research should be left to historians," Rivlin said. "The role of political leaders is to shape the future... At a time when more and more survivors are leaving us, this gathering is an expression of our shared commitment, to pass on the historical facts and lessons of the Shoah, to the next generation."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.