70th Anniversary Observance of the Kristallnacht pogrom: Keynote Address by Her Excellency Ms. Gabriela Shalev, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
At the outset, let me express Israel’s gratitude for the impressive work of the “Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme” of the Department of Public Information under the leadership of Under-Secretary-General Mr. Kiyo Akasaka.
I also wish to express our gratitude for the organization of this panel, Ms. Kimberly Mann, and to today’s moderator, Mr. Eric Falt, as well as to the panellists and the audience.
Today we mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night that served as a prelude to the Holocaust.
On that night, organized gangs of Nazi rioters rampaged throughout Germany, destroying more than a thousand synagogues, as well as thousands of Jewish shops and businesses.
In this massive pogrom, Jews were murdered and many thousands were sent to concentration camps.
Today we gather here to honour the memory of those who perished, those who struggled and those who survived.
As a granddaughter of both victims and survivors of the Holocaust, I am proud to stand here before you today representing the State of Israel. For it was Israel, a Jewish and democratic state, that was established out of the ashes of the Holocaust.
Today we remember lives that were forever shattered by the Holocaust and the tide of madness that engulfed Europe and the world. We remember the individual stories of those who perished at the hands of evil.
As time distances us from the Holocaust, we approach a new era in which so many of these memories will become only history. A child born today will never meet a Holocaust survivor or hear first-hand the countless stories of tragedy and miracle that took place during the darkest hour of the modern world.
And so the torch of remembrance, of bearing witness, and of education, becomes an even more critical task. It is not only our duty to the past, but our responsibility to the future.
And so, as living remnants of the Holocaust, we must share our stories –– one by one. It is the least we can do to offer justice to the victims, and to the memories of so many others who will never have their stories told.
Let me share with you now my personal history –– the story of my grandparents. At the time of Kristallnacht, my paternal grandparents were already in British Mandate Palestine. They managed to escape Germany five years earlier. My grandfather, Zigfreid Manheim was a successful lawyer in Berlin and the author of a weekly column in one of Berlin's largest newspapers. His two sons — my father and uncle — were studying to become a doctor and a lawyer. They were Germans and Jews, proud of both their country and their heritage.
In 1933, their dreams were shattered, their world collapsed. The rise of Hitler meant that my grandfather was banned from practicing law. Barred from the only profession he knew, my grandfather left his native Berlin with his family. They settled in British Mandate Palestine, leaving behind a life of law and medicine to begin anew as farmers and cooks.
You may think they were anything but lucky. But looking back today, we now know how lucky they were. Others in my family –– my maternal grandparents –– did not escape. My grandfather, Shimon Peterseil, was a rabbi in Kiel –– a town in northern Germany. He could not leave Germany because of his age –– he was 70 –– but my grandmother, Hadas, had the foresight to send their four children to British Mandate Palestine while she stayed behind with her husband. In the end, my grandparents were deported to Theresienstadt and from there to Auschwitz, where they found their horrible end.
The fate of my grandparents, and the fate of millions others like them, remain a painful reminder of the genocide waged against them for their mere existence as Jews.
Out of the tragedy of the Holocaust, the world witnessed the birth of the United Nations and the modern state of Israel. And so it is no surprise that both Israel and the UN share a founding ethos of “never again.” Both Israel and the United Nations uphold the sacred principles of human rights and the dignity of the human person. Never again will we allow the forces of genocide and hatred to overwhelm humanity. Never again will Jews be slaughtered for their mere existence as Jews.
It is a powerful message. But let us not forget for one moment the power of words. For Kristallnacht did not begin with the burning of synagogues. It did not begin with the destruction of Jewish stores and shops. It did not start with the murder of innocent Jews. That is how it ended.
Kristallnacht began with the words of men. It began in the hearts and minds of the Nazis. The genocide against the Jewish people began with words.
Given the power of words, what am I to feel –– as a descendent of my grandparents Shimon and Hadas –– when I hear the terrible statements of Iranian leaders who deny the Holocaust and threaten to wipe Israel off the map?
Not long ago, Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Mahmmod Hassan stated the following: “The Shoah? It is an invention, all of it. It was never as the Israelis and their allies describe it. There were no gas chambers. There was no Auschwitz or Treblinka. Nor were there persecutions or mass executions or 6 million killed.”
And so at the Untied Nations –– a place where words and language can often seem in oversupply –– we must never forget the enormous power of the words we utter. We must never allow ourselves the false comfort of attributing little value to the language of those who seek to spread hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and other vile forms of bigotry.
For all of us gathered here at the United Nations, the lessons of today’s commemoration are clear. We gather here to summon the courage, to remind ourselves that if we fail to acknowledge hateful words for what they are –– if we cower in the face of intolerance –– we will have discarded the very foundation of the United Nations, the very idea of ‘never again.’
Today, I stand before you to call upon our strength so that our words and our actions remain true to the noble and sombre spirit of “never again.”