World leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon for the second day of the World Holocaust Forum, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin urged politicians and heads of state to help Israel in its battle against anti-Semitism, saying the horrors of the Holocaust should never be forgotten.
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They were joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who all gave speeches. Other leaders attending the ceremony were 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.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said he was right not to attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, as the organizers of the event presented “a distorted vision of history.”
Speaking in Davos on Thursday, Duda referred to the films shown to participants at the event. “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.
“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.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned in his speech at the ceremony that “the spirits of evil are emerging in a new guise, presenting their anti-Semitic, racist, authoritarian thinking as an answer for the future.”
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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.”
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.”
Prince Charles told fellow participants “that if we don’t make the connection between memories of past atrocities and the present, there isn’t any point to it.”
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 events feel helplessly inadequate.”
But he warned that “the Holocaust must never be allowed to become simply a fact of history.”
Vice President Pence told fellow participants 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, whose remarks received loud applause from the Israeli audience, spoke emotionally about the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
French President Emmanuel Macron said at Yad Vashem that in “facing the new anti-Semitism” that is rearing its head in Europe and elsewhere, “We must not give up the fight.
“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,” Macron said.
Putin said 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.”
Amid the diplomatic spat that developed between Russia and Poland over the roles each played in World War II, the Russian president said, “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 told Haaretz that Israel made three overtures toward Russia ahead of Putin’s arrival in Israel to attend the Holocaust Forum. The gestures included approving the transfer to Russia of ownership of Russian churches located at Alexander’s Yard in Jerusalem; resolving the disagreement between the Jerusalem Municipality and Russian authorities regarding property taxes of the Mission of Saint Sergius of Jerusalem; and transferring from the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Russian church the powers to sign all official agreements involving Russian assets.
Addressing world leaders at Yad Vashem, Rivlin 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 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. Anti-Semitism has not changed. It is us who have changed.”
Netanyahu said at the ceremony that he is “committed first and foremost to make the words ‘never again’ not just another empty slogan, but a constant order for action.”
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 destroy the one and only Jewish state.”